Dangerous harvest: Nevada County enters potentially violent pot harvest
October 2, 2008
GRASS VALLEY ” 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.
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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.
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.
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.