Misogynistic MAGA Supervisors Attack Successful Women in Zogg Fire Witch Hunt

From left, supervisors Kevin Crye, Chris Kelstrom, then-chair Patrick Jones, Tim Garman and Mary Rickert discuss the Zogg Fire settlement at a 2023 board meeting.

Sometimes, I miss the good old days before “woke” when you could call a moron a moron. These days, to soften the blow, we employ fancy scientific-sounding euphemisms such as the Dunning-Kruger effect to describe those unfortunate individuals with limited competence in a particular domain who dramatically overestimate their own abilities.

Cases in point: District 1 Supervisor/Chair Kevin Crye and District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones.

Neither supervisor has been to law school, yet both Crye and Jones think they know the criminal justice system better than Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett, who has served in the DA’s office for more than two decades.

(Reminder: District 1 voters can recall Crye in the March primary election; District 4 voters can choose the smart, tall and handsome Matt Plummer over serial misogynist Jones.)

Let’s go back in time a little bit. During a board of supervisors meeting last August, right about the same time he realized he was facing a recall election, the legal layman Crye attacked Bridgett’s handling of the Zogg Fire case in which the people of Shasta County pursued criminal charges against utility giant PG&E.

The Zogg Fire was sparked on Sept. 27, 2020, by a gray pine tree that fell on PG&E powerlines near Zogg Mine Road during high winds. During the next few weeks, the wildfire burned more than 63,000 acres in the Igo/Ono area in southwestern Shasta County. Four people were killed, and more than 200 buildings were destroyed.

Bridgett filed multiple criminal charges against PG&E in 2021, including four counts of manslaughter. Those criminal charges were gradually whittled down during months of court proceedings until just 10 charges were left early last year, including the four manslaughter counts.

But last April, Shasta County Superior Court Judge Daniel Flynn ruled that PG&E had not acted recklessly or negligently before the Zogg Fire in what’s known as a 995 preliminary hearing. The hearing was requested by PG&E, which prevailed in its effort to eliminate the criminal charges but paid a substantial civil fine instead. In May, Bridgett settled the civil case with PG&E for $50 million.

The $50 million settlement was dispersed to 24 different community organizations, including $15.5 million to the Shasta County Fire Department, $3.5 million to the Redding and Anderson fire departments, $7 million to the Children’s Legacy Center, $2.4 million to the Shasta College Fire Academy, $2.5 million to Haven Humane Society and $1 million for the Whiskeytown Environmental School.

Pay attention to the $7 million given to the Children’s Legacy Center. Bridgett’s status as board secretary for the center, an unpaid volunteer position, would be used against her by Crye and Jones to suggest foul play.

District 1 Supervisor/Board Chair Kevin Crye.

Crye did not consult with Bridgett about the Zogg Fire case before the August meeting. He blindsided the DA, his board colleagues and the audience with a presentation assembled from cherry-picked case records and a press conference video with the help of a county staff member.

The presentation was not on the board’s agenda and was delivered during the period where supervisors recount the various events they’ve attended during the weeks between BOS meetings.

If Crye had simply comprehended the entirety of the first court document he quoted from, Judge Flynn’s tentative ruling on PG&E’s 995 motion in April, he might have abandoned his mission to smear Bridgett with the Zogg Fire case, since there’s no evidence the DA erred in her decision making. Then again, considering the Dunning-Kruger effect, he might have proceeded all the same.

Gray Pines are known to lean. Photo courtesy of treebuzz.com.

At issue in the hearing was what Judge Flynn dubbed “the offending tree,” a 105-feet-tall, 2-foot-wide gray pine listing at a 23-degree angle toward nearby PG&E powerlines. The people of Shasta County, through DA Bridgett, alleged PG&E had marked the offending tree for elimination before the Zogg Fire but had failed to remove it.

Judge Flynn ruled that Shasta County failed to prove PG&E had marked the offending tree for removal before the Zogg Fire. Moreover, in the two years leading up to the Zogg Fire, the utility/defendant had behaved as a good citizen, conducting four Level 1 surveys of the area using the methods set forth in the International Society of Arboriculture Manual. The ISA is the working standard for the identification of hazardous trees in the power/utility industry.

ISA Level 1 surveys examine the forest as a whole; as Judge Flynn notes, photographs admitted in evidence show, “Dozens of gray pines in the area, many of which have noticeable leans … within a short distance from the fallen tree in question.”

ISA Level 2 surveys are 360-degree examinations of individual trees, generally triggered by Level 1 observations. Since leaning is a trait of short-rooted gray pines, it’s not necessarily enough to prompt a Level 2 survey, according to the ISA Manual.

After the Zogg Fire, investigators discovered the offending tree’s trunk had a large, decayed cavity on its uphill side as well as exposed roots. But Judge Flynn ruled that Shasta County hadn’t proved its allegation that the offending tree was marked for elimination before the Zogg Fire.

“No witness testified that the ISA Manual standard was not followed in any inspection between the Carr Fire [2018] and the Zogg Fire,” Flynn stated. “All inspectors who testified state that had the defects of the offending tree, identified after the tree fell, been identified before the tree fell, they would have marked the tree for removal.”

Because the offending tree’s defects were on the uphill side, they went undetected by the four Level 1 inspections.

“No evidence was presented that any defect of the tree except the lean of the tree based upon Level 1 inspection; that is, those other defects were hidden from the inspectors performing a Level 1 inspection,” Flynn stated.

“The People have failed to identify a standard of care other than that established in the IMA Manual and have failed to establish that any of the various inspectors failed to abide by that standard,” Flynn stated. “The People’s argument here relies almost exclusively on facts learned about the tree after the fact and the fire resulting from the power lines being dropped due to the fall of the tree.”

Nevertheless, last August Crye ran with the unproven claim that the offending tree had been marked for removal before the Zogg Fire during his presentation, calling it “common knowledge,” which is not a legal term.

Crye failed to grasp that all the supposedly “irrefutable evidence” he cited had been refuted by Judge Flynn’s decision in the 995 hearing. His presentation’s supposed coup de grace was a clip from Bridgett’s press conference last May announcing the settlement with PG&E.

Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett announcing Zogg Fire settlement last May.

“PG&E has fought this ruling,” Bridgett said on the clip. “We have a different judge [Flynn] who was assigned to review that and has issued a written tentative ruling that would prevent us from taking this to criminal trial and holding them criminally responsible.”

At this point in the August meeting, Crye went into full Dunning-Kruger mode, cutting short the clip from Bridgett’s press conference and claiming he could prove PG&E was criminally liable because he had stayed up the night before studying the case.

“Here’s my issue, this is where this all sums up,” said Crye, who claimed to be so outraged he was physically shaking. “You hear her right there; she says ‘it prevents us.’ That is not true. It did not prevent that. At the press conference I’m left with the understanding that DA Bridgett didn’t have any choice.”

In fact, DA Bridgett made a choice. She chose to negotiate a $50 million civil settlement with PG&E and as a condition of that settlement forgo criminal prosecution of the utility. Considering there was no evidence PG&E had acted with criminal recklessness or negligence, it appears to have been a wise decision.

Crye believes Bridgett should have instantly refiled the criminal case. Without new evidence, that’s a losing proposition. When I recently asked DA Bridgett by email if she would make the same decision today and negotiate the settlement, she stoically responded, “Yes.”

But last August an irritable Crye made a motion that the board solicit outside counsel to investigate DA Bridgett.

“When you see some of the things that are happening, I really begin to feel when you’re talking about four lives being lost and the money and the positions and the promotions and everything that’s happened,” Crye rambled on. “I just want transparency and I want to get to the bottom of this. So, I’d make a motion that we solicit outside counsel [to investigate Bridgett.]”

Jones, the only person on the board not surprised by Crye’s impromptu presentation, seconded the motion, which immediately ran into objections from District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert.

“Did you read the preliminary hearing transcript?” an incredulous Rickert asked Crye.

“I read everything,” Crye said, repeating the claim that he’d pulled an all-nighter studying the issue.

“You never talked to the DA?” Rickert prodded. “There’s been a whole trial. You’re taking snippets and bits and pieces of press conferences and things that need to be taken in context.”

Crye said the issue was too big to discuss with Bridgett alone. After several minutes of intense debate, then interim county counsel Matthew McComber interjected, “The motion on the table as it has been presented is not within the scope of today’s agenda.”

Eventually, the decision was made to send an official letter of complaint to California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who has jurisdiction over all county district attorneys in the state—much to Crye and Jones’ consternation.

District 1 Supervisor Patrick Jones interviewed on the rightwing One America News network.

I didn’t pay much attention to the Zogg Fire issue last August. It wasn’t until it came up again at a special board of supervisors meeting in November requested by Crye and granted by then-chair Jones that I realized there was more to the story than just the court case.

Crye and Jones are apparently angry that two high-level female county employees were “poached”—as Crye might put it—by the Children’s Legacy Center after it was awarded $7 million from the Zogg Fire settlement.

I first caught a glimmer of this facet of the story when Crye mentioned “the money and the positions and the promotions and everything that’s happened” at the August meeting. Jones affirmed this at the November meeting and filled in some of the blanks.

“The Zogg Fire settlement was clearly a large settlement where very little of the money went to the Igo residents,” Jones said. “In addition to that, two high ranking members of the county departed and went to the Children’s Legacy Center, who received a substantial sum. I have no internal information on any of that. It looks unusual, it should be addressed, it should be completely transparent and open to the public. This along with other things, um, I think are enough to move forward.”

Incredibly, Jones and Crye insinuate with no evidence that two former high-level female county employees colluded with DA Stephanie Bridgett and Children’s Legacy Center CEO Kimberly Johnson to somehow tilt the results of the Zogg Fire settlement in their financial favor. The idea that the employees left on their own free will because they’re perhaps not keen on the misogynistic MAGA management style never seems to have occurred to them.

Truth be told, county employees are leaving in droves since the MAGA majority comprised of Crye, Jones and District 5 Supervisor Chris Kelstrom assumed control last year. Anyone who’s witnessed Jones and Crye’s continuous misogynistic attacks on District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert understands that Shasta County is not necessarily a safe space for professional women.

Consider this: To combat this alleged female conspiracy against him, at the November special meeting Crye filed “a formal demand that county counsel and all [county] staff members preserve any and all evidence relating to communications with the with the California Attorney General’s office, its agents and representatives regarding the Zogg Fire from Sept 27th 2022 to Sept 27th 2023.”

The 11 bulleted items on Crye’s county employee search list include all electronic and tangible items regarding the Zogg Fire, call logs with the California Attorney General’s office, correspondence to and from the California Attorney General, correspondence to and from Cal Fire, recorded statements in the media, research and development materials, and staff social media posts on Facebook, linkedin, Instagram and Twitter.

When Supervisor Rickert pushed Crye to disclose if he’d had outside legal help to craft the list of bulleted items, Crye doubled down by repeating “I crafted it,” without directly answering Rickert’s question.

It’s a witch hunt, and just like back in 17th century Massachusetts, the four main targets are strong women not afraid to pursue their own professional ambitions: DA Stephanie Bridgett, Children’s Legacy Center CEO Kimberly Johnson, and the two former high level county employees who were recruited by Johnson.

People familiar with the story know the identity of the two former female county administrators, but A News Café is not publishing their names to protect the innocent from MAGA trolls.

Children’s Legacy Center CEO Kimberly Johnson.

“I have been very hesitant to validate or add to the narrative, not wanting to give credibility to their blatant attacks,” Johnson replied to me in an email. “However, as I have seen it impact members of my team and as we have had people come by our offices uninvited, I’m growing in my lack of a willingness to simply say nothing.”

Originally dedicated to helping children traumatized by the sex trafficking industry, the center’s rapid growth has drawn some criticism from the local nonprofit community, which is highly competitive. In 2021 the Children’s Legacy Center had five employees. Today it has 50 employees spread out across five locations. It’s currently in the process of merging with One Safe Place, which will add 20 additional employees and four new programs.

The center’s expansion is in part a response to the recognition that trauma from Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs can harm developing children. This trauma is experienced by children beyond child trafficking and includes the trauma experienced in natural disasters such as the Carr Fire or the Zogg Fire. Johnson plans to direct the Zogg Fire funds into programs supporting this traumatized group of children.

“The large bulk of the funds do not arrive until later this year and therefore much of the work being done now is more in the planning stages, but our concepts are leaning towards a mobile response,” Johnson said. “This van/bus will allow us to provide a variety of services in the region and we look forward to engaging the Igo/Ono community.”

Johnson was effusive in her praise for the county employees she recruited but is conscious of the county’s continued loss of employees under MAGA majority rule.

“The bizarre reality is how my deep gratitude for both of them being a part of my team is juxtaposed against a sorrow I feel for our county which has honestly lost so many extraordinary people,” Johnson said.

Both Johnson and Bridgett denied that there’d been any communication with the two former county employees about the Zogg Fire settlement before it was announced to the public.

“There wasn’t any knowledge or connectivity around Zogg and their decision to join the Children’s Legacy Center team,” Johnson said.

“Neither of them had any knowledge that a settlement was being negotiated,” Bridgett said. “Neither were informed once a settlement had been reached. They would have learned of it after the settlement was reached when the rest of the community learned.”

District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert.

At the special board meeting in November, only Supervisor Rickert opposed Crye’s motion to sift through the Zogg Fire communications of county employees. She noted that the county counsel’s office was already overburdened and contracts and agreements are going unsigned. Then-county counsel Gretchen Stuhr estimated the fishing expedition might consume 30 days of research time.

Rickert complained that valuable employees are leaving at an alarming rate and recruiting outside professionals has become difficult because the MAGA board of supervisors have given Shasta County a bad reputation. In Rickert’s opinion, the motion to preserve all Zogg Fire documents was premature given that the Attorney General has not responded to Shasta County’s request to review the Zogg Fire settlement with PG&E.

Crye was quick to pounce.

“It’s about letting the public understand what happened, and maybe nothing happened,” Crye said. He denied Shasta County has a recruitment problem. Then he folded Rickert into his Zogg Fire conspiracy theory.

“It’s always under the rug for you,” Crye said to Rickert. “I feel that you want to dig a hole, bury it and then bury the shovel … maybe I’m not asking for enough? What do you know that I don’t know? That’s what I’m curious about.”

For the record, that’s five people Crye has woven into his conspiracy theory, all of them successful professional women.

The MAGA board, plus a vacillating District 2 Supervisor Tim Garman, voted 4-1 to support the countywide search of staff communications regarding the Zogg Fire.

The Dunning-Kruger effect strikes again. Shasta County continues to reel from bad decisions made by Chair Jones, who blew up the county’s contract with Dominion Voting Systems last year, and now Chair Crye, who orchestrated the waiving of new development impact fees this year. Both decisions cost the county millions of dollars.

Which raises the question, how many more bad decisions can Shasta County handle?

That’s what District 1 and District 4 voters need to ask themselves when ballots begin arriving in the mail after Feb. 5.

If you appreciate investigative journalist R.V. Scheide’s reporting, please consider making a donation to A News Cafe.

R.V. Scheide

R.V. Scheide is an award-winning journalist who has covered news, politics, music, arts and culture in Northern California for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in the Tenderloin Times, Sacramento News & Review, Reno News & Review, Chico News & Review, North Bay Bohemian, San Jose Metro, SF Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, Alternet, Boston Phoenix, Creative Loafing and Counterpunch, among many other publications. His honors include winning the California Newspaper Publishers Association’s Freedom of Information Act and best columnist awards as well as best commentary from the Society of Professional Journalists, California chapter. Mr. Scheide welcomes your comments and story tips. Contact him at RVScheide@anewscafe.com..

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