Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dangerous harvest Pot-related thefts, rising violence predicted

Dangerous harvest
Pot-related thefts, rising violence predicted
By Dave Moller
Senior Staff Writer
The Union (Nevada City, CA) Oct 2

With the season for harvesting marijuana underway, Nevada County drug
enforcement officials fear it could become bloody and dangerous.

While there seems to be a lack of Mexican national grows this year
and fewer confiscated plants because of it, harvest thefts and
violence are still expected, according to Sgt. Bill Smethers at the
Nevada County Sheriff's Narcotics Task Force.

Two recent incidents, and violence seen last year, show an unsettling trend.

"People are aware the dope's there, and it's easy pickin's," Smethers said.

"We expect, with the harvest season just starting, that we'll see
increased violence with thieves or people protecting their plants,"
added Sgt. Shannan Moon of the Sheriff's Office.

Despite the rising violence, seizures of marijuana plants have
decreased after two dramatic years.

In both 2006 and 2007, county narcotics investigators raided large
marijuana plantations in the South Fork Yuba River canyon linked to
Mexican crime rings.

This year, officers have not staged as many raids because they area
awaiting direction from several pending court cases involving medical
marijuana, Smethers said. Some pot patches that might have been
pulled in recent years were not because of the legal uncertainties
around them, he added.

Thieves pose as FBI agents

Early Wednesday, thieves posing as FBI agents marked the beginning of
the marijuana harvest season.

About 1 a.m. Wednesday, two men with guns entered a home on the 12000
block of Quaker Hill Cross Road, on Banner Mountain east of Nevada
City, and took about two to three and one-half pounds of marijuana,
Moon said.

Officers at the scene learned the two victims had just trimmed and
bagged the marijuana when the heist occurred.

One of the suspects had a small firearm as he entered the room and
said, "FBI" to the victims, Moon said. The victims were ordered to
give up their car keys, wallets and cell phones before the suspects
left with the marijuana.

The victims said the getaway car was a dark, gun-metal gray
Mitsubishi Eclipse that went south on Quaker Hill Cross Road toward
Red Dog Road. The first suspect is described as a man 6-foot-3-inches
tall, about 275 pounds, with short dark hair, black shorts, a white
T-shirt and multiple tattoos on both arms.

The second suspect is a man 5-feet-10-inches tall, about 200 pounds,
with a shaved head, wearing a gray-hooded sweat shirt and baggy pants.

The incident was not the first involving firearms and marijuana in
the county this year, Moon said. On Sept. 5, two people in the area
of Woodbury Drive and Dog Bar Road were held at gunpoint and
pistol-whipped by three individuals who suspected they had stolen
their marijuana.

That case is under investigation and could have involved members of
the Vagos motorcycle gang in Sacramento, Moon said.

2007 a violent year

The pistol-whipping was similar to one of three violent pot patch
incidents last year.

On Oct. 14, 2007, five people entered a home in the same area of
Woodbury Drive and Dog Bar Road, armed with crow bars, baseball bats
and at least one gun, demanding money and marijuana.

When deputies got to the scene, they found eight people bound and
beaten on the floor, including one with a broken neck. A van was
found at the scene loaded with freshly cut marijuana.

Several days later, two men burst into a Cedar Ridge home and
assaulted two men there with a wooden baseball bat that had metal
bolts screwed into its barrel to form a crude mace. One man was
seriously injured and another got hit in the face with the mace.

The two attackers fled the scene without any marijuana when one of
the victims said he had a gun. Investigators found about 20 pot
plants at the site.

The incident caused Sheriff's Capt. Ron Smith to say at the time, "If
you're minding your own business, sitting at home manicuring your pot
plants, you might want to lock your door. This is the risk you take."

On Sept. 29 last year, two men burst into a home on the San Juan
Ridge where another man was growing marijuana. The victim shot
intruder John Scott Shelton, 31, of Linda, with a shotgun at close
range and killed him.

Shelton had an AR-15 assault rifle and the other man - who eluded the
authorities - left behind a .22-caliber weapon.

Now, officers fear those kinds of scenarios could happen again.

"As we saw with last year, people protecting their plants is a public
concern," Moon said Wednesday. "If you see it, smell it and you
believe it's illegal, contact us. Get out of there when you see a
garden," legal or not.

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