Wednesday, 19 June 2024

Investigations of illegal marijuana gardens yield arrests

LAKE COUNTY – Local law enforcement officials have made several arrests over the past week relating to suspected illegal marijuana gardens reported by the public as well as seasonal marijuana eradication operations coordinated by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

The first of the arrests took place last Friday, according to sheriff's Capt. James Bauman.

On Friday morning at about 11:45 a.m. a property owner from the Jerusalem Grade area of Middletown reported his son and some friends had discovered an apparent marijuana grow while hiking on the property the previous evening, Bauman reported.

Deputies met the property owner and were led into a remote canyon where Bauman said they found two water tanks and a small camp with 13 marijuana plants growing in the area.

As the deputies approached the camp, two subjects emerged from the surrounding brush and were immediately detained. The two were identified as 24-year-old Robert Cole Fortin and 24-year-old Brian Adam Abbie, both of Clearlake. Further investigation led deputies to another 37 marijuana plants located near a creek, east of the camp, Bauman said.

Fortin initially told deputies he thought the two were growing the marijuana on his own property but he was unable to prove ownership of any land in the area. Bauman said both men told deputies they had recommendations for medicinal marijuana but only Fortin could produce one and the amount of plants found were determined to be in excess of the legal limit.

Deputies also found evidence of natural water diversion and other destruction of lands caused as a result of the grow, Bauman said.

Both Fortin and Abbie were arrested and booked in the Lake County Jail for felony cultivation of marijuana and misdemeanor trespass charges. Bauman said they have both since been released on bail.

On Saturday, Bauman said deputies served a search warrant for a suspected illegal grow on an undeveloped property in the area Highway 29 and Diener Road in Lower Lake.

Bauman said deputies had actually discovered the 130-plant grow on June 16 when a property owner in that area had reported a suspicious vehicle and possible grow on or near his property. A search warrant was secured in the days that followed, in order for deputies to return and further investigate.

When deputies reentered the grow on Saturday, they located 57-year-old Richard Clayton Stine in one of two travel trailers at a camp site within the grow, Bauman said. Stine told deputies he had been hired off of the street by two Santa Rosa men to tend to the grow and that one of the men owned the property.

Stine possessed a recommendation for medical marijuana, and one was located for the property owner, but both cards were expired and the number of plants in the grow exceeded the legal limit, according to Bauman's report.

Deputies located a total of six gardens on the property and around the camp. A total of 130 marijuana plants were eradicated and several loaded firearms were seized. Bauman said one of the travel trailers and another utility trailer in the camp were reportedly stolen out of Santa Rosa and were also recovered.

Stine was arrested and booked on felony charges of cultivation, sales and possession of marijuana for sale. He also is charged with being a felon in possession of firearms and possession of stolen property. Bauman said Stine has since been bailed out of jail.

On Tuesday, members of the Sheriff’s Department, the California Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), conducted Campaign Against Marijuana Planing (CAMP) eradication operations on multiple illegal grows in a remote area about 8 miles southeast of Lower Lake. Bauman said a contract helicopter was used to insert and extract eradication teams during the operation with a Short Term Airborne Operation (STABO) line.

At about 4 pm, a team of two officers were being lowered by helicopter into one of the gardens when the pilot spotted a subject armed with a rifle jump out of concealment and flee from the garden. Bauman said the pilot inserted the team and while maintaining sight of the fleeing suspect, quickly pulled other teams from nearby grows and placed them in the area to assist with the suspect's apprehension.

After about 20 minutes of tracking the suspect through rugged terrain, deputies confronted him at gunpoint in a creek bed. After several warnings to stop, he dropped his weapon, placed his hands in the air, but then fled again, Bauman reported.

A deputy chased the suspect back up a hill from the creek bed and was able to catch and arrest him after a brief struggle. Bauman said a loaded magazine for the semi-automatic rifle he was carrying was found in one of his pockets, along with other ammunition and some irrigation pieces consistent with maintaining a garden.

Francisco Ornelas Diaz, 22, a reported transient out of Lower Lake, was extracted from the grow by helicopter to a landing zone where he was then transported to the Lake County Jail. Bauman said Diaz was booked on felony charges of cultivating marijuana, possession of marijuana for sale and committing a felony while armed. He is held without bail due to an immigration hold.

A small camp was located in the garden Diaz had fled from and by the end of the day, 887 marijuana plants had been eradicated from that garden alone. Bauman said several other adjacent gardens marked for eradication that day had to be postponed due to Diaz’s arrest.

Bauman said this is the first week of seasonal eradication operations coordinated by the Lake County Sheriff's Office with CAMP and other allied agencies in Lake County.

The number of plants eradicated this week alone is already at 38,000, including 18,000 plants contained in seed beds found on public land in the Boggs Forest area. Bauman said it is anticipated at least 100,000 plants will be eradicated by the end of the week.

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