Police Bulletin | July 17, 2020 | Pleasanton Weekly | PleasantonWeekly.com |

Pleasanton Weekly

Community Pulse - July 17, 2020

Police Bulletin

Charges filed against suspect accused of killing Danville doctor

An Oroville man accused of fatally shooting a Danville doctor during the Fourth of July weekend has formally been charged with murder, according to the Sierra County District Attorney's Office.

Officially filed in a complaint to the Sierra County Superior Court on Monday, prosecutors have charged 40-year-old John Thomas Conway with a slew of charges including murder, attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer.

Conway has also been charged with burglary, robbery, unlawful discharge of a firearm at an occupied vehicle and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Sierra County Sheriff's Office deputies and other regional officers arrested Conway on July 4, one day after they allege he shot Dr. Ari Gershman to death while the Danville doctor was four-wheeling with his 15-year-old son, Jack, in the Tahoe National Forest.

The sheriff's office alleges Conway also shot two other strangers nearby that afternoon, July 3. Those victims sustained non-life-threatening injuries.

Sierra County Sheriff Mike Fisher described the situation as an apparent "random act of violence." Conway allegedly opened fire on the father and son after they came into contact with him on a rural road.

Dr. Gershman, a pulmonary doctor and married father of three from Danville, died at the scene. Jack Gershman was able to escape unharmed by running into the wilderness, and the teenager survived for more than 30 hours alone before being located rescued by law enforcement officers and a tracking K-9 unit.

Prior to the July 3 shootings, Conway had a warrant out for his arrest, according to Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey, who added that police had been on the lookout for the defendant after allegedly violating his parole.

"He had two cases he was previously convicted on here and was on what we call mandatory supervision, which is like an enhanced probation, and had violated that probation and there was a warrant out for his arrest," Ramsey said.

Conway had two previous convictions in Butte County, the first in March 2019 involved a battery of a family member and felony vandalism that occurred when he drove his truck through his "family's gate," according to Ramsey.

He then allegedly violated his probation for the first time in January with a new offense involving the theft of an ATV in what Ramsey said was "much the same style that he did involved in the shooting case as it is alleged." Ramsey added that Conway then violated his probation again when he failed to report to his probation officer, and officers found ammunition in his home when conducting a search of the premises.

Dr. Gershman's slaying while on a trip in rural Sierra County has sent shockwaves through his hometown of Danville while grabbing headlines across the country.

A virtual lawn luminary vigil (with social distancing) was held for Dr. Gershman on Monday night, that consisted of participants decorating bag with battery-operated tea lights, notes and photos, that were then placed on his family's Danville home.

In other news

* Calls to domestic abuse hotlines have risen locally and nationally during the COVID-19 pandemic and advocates are trying to reach victims in innovative ways, according to prosecutors and Childhelp, a group that helps abused children.

Calls to the Alameda County Family Justice Center, which helps abuse victims locally, have risen from 45 in March to 264 in June, county prosecutors said. Additional calls may have been taken by police, according to the Alameda County District Attorney's Office.

Nationally, calls to the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline were up 31% in March, 17 percent in April, 43% in May and 32% in June compared to the same months last year.

"In the beginning of the shelter-in-place, which for us happened on March 17 of this year, we were very concerned," District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said.

"Because we weren't getting calls about domestic violence, we weren't getting calls about child abuse," she said.

So, Alameda County prosecutors opened the Family Justice Center in case victims could get away. Also, the center's navigators, who take calls from victims, started calling clients of the justice center.

When they did that, they found that victims were willing to talk and tell the navigators that they needed a safe place to go to get away from their abuser, O'Malley said.

* Fewer hearings, longer wait times and other service cuts can be expected in Alameda County Superior Court after monthly furloughs of court staff that began this week, judicial leaders said.

In response to state funding cuts, one half of the county's trial court personnel are to be furloughed on the second Friday workday of each month and the other half on the fourth Friday workday.

Alameda County court officials already put a freeze on hiring.

The dates of the expected furloughs are today, July 31, Aug. 14 and 28, Sept. 11 and 25, Oct. 9 and 23, Nov. 6 and 20 and Dec. 4 and 18. The furloughs may extend past December, judicial leaders said, if the county doesn't receive enough federal aid to end them sooner.

State funding is being cut for trial court operations across California by $167.8 million. Of that amount, $150 million could be restored if federal funds are received by Oct. 15, according to the Judicial Council.

Alameda County's share of the statewide Superior Court budget cuts is expected to be more than $6 million.

-- Ryan J. Degan and Bay City News Service

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