Sunday, 21 April 2024

REGIONAL: Pot grow guard shot dead in confrontation with law enforcement

MENDOCINO COUNTY – Another confrontation between law enforcement and illegal pot growers turned deadly this week when a man guarding a cultivation operation in Mendocino County was shot dead during a confrontation with a sheriff's deputy and a firefight took place between deputies and other suspects.


The incidents occurred during a series of pot eradications carried out early Wednesday morning in the 3000 block of Branscomb Road of Laytonville, according to Capt. Kurt Smallcomb of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office.


The name of the dead man was not released.


Smallcomb said the Mendocino County Sheriffs Office Marijuana Eradication Unit, along with patrol deputies and detectives, was assisted by the Major Crimes Task Force, Mendocino County Special Weapons and Tactics Team, Mendocino County Probation, Homeland Security, Drug Enforcement Agents, Alcohol,Tobacco and Fireams agents and Forest Service agents in serving a search warrant at the Branscomb Road address just west of Laytonville.


The search warrant was for a large marijuana cultivation operation involving armed guards and ex-felons, he said.


On arrival law enforcement conducted several residential searches on the large parcel of property. Smallcomb said several marijuana plants were seized along with firearms and other narcotic paraphernalia.


At the residential site deputies arrested several suspects, Smallcomb said.


They included Laytonville residents 52-year-old Gerald Stephenson, arrested for being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition, and cultivation and sales of marijuana; David Higgs, 50, arrested for possession of a controlled substance, possession of an assault rifle and tampering with a firearm serial number; and 41-year-old Kelly Dutra, arrested for cultivation and sales of marijuana. Also arrested was 22-year-old transient Delfino Contreras on an immigration violation.


Smallcomb said the suspects were transported and booked into the Mendocino County Jail.


Law enforcement then proceeded to two large marijuana grows which were identified as part of the same investigation, he said.


At the upper site officers encountered numerous armed suspects tending to the garden. A total of 426 growing marijuana plants were located and eradicated at this location. Smallcomb said several firearms and ammunition were further recovered.


It was at that location that the officer-involved shooting took place. Smallcomb said the Mendocino County District Attorney along with the California Department of Justice are investigating the incident.


Law enforcement also was investigating a lower site at approximately the same time as the upper site when the firefight ensued, Smallcomb said.


There was no evidence located which revealed anyone was shot or injured during the armed encounter, which Smallcomb said the Mendocino County District Attorney and the California Department of Justice are investigating.


At the site of the gun battle a total of 1980 marijuana plants were eradicated and a firearm and ammunition were recovered, Smallcomb said.


Smallcomb said the investigation is continuing.


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