Pubdate: Sun, 10 Aug 2014
Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
Copyright: 2014 The Press Democrat
Author: Glenda Anderson


Tales of mysterious men in black or camouflage dropping from
helicopters into legal marijuana gardens, cutting the plants, then
disappearing with nary a word to the growers, have been spreading
fear among Mendocino County pot cultivators.

Many believe the intruders are private, paramilitary security officers
conducting vigilante anti-pot operations, but the real story likely is
less intriguing, according to the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office.

The County of Mendocino Marijuana Eradication Team (COMMET) has been
conducting operations in the same Laytonville area - near Woodman
Creek - where the mystery men have been reported, and likely is the
source of the rumors, sheriff's officials said. Sheriff's deputies
have been using a private helicopter service that would not be
immediately recognizable as working with law enforcement, officials

Sheriff Tom Allman said he would investigate the allegations further
if any victims come forward with evidence. So far, he's been provided
only secondhand information from about 10 people, he said.

"I don't know if it's true or it's an urban legend. I'm certainly
trying to find out the truth," Allman said.

Sheriff's Capt. Greg Van Patten said his department has conducted pot
raids in the Woodman Creek area since late July.

They were initiated by reports that marijuana growers in the area were
draining the creek to water their crops, a problem that has been
sharpened by the drought and has been widely reported in Mendocino and
Humboldt counties.

COMMET officers on July 23 eradicated 2,630 plants from no less than
15 sites, Van Patten said. All those gardens were out of compliance
with the county's medical marijuana regulations, he said.

The regulations include limiting the number of pot plants to a maximum
of 25 per parcel and requiring medical recommendations. Some of the
gardens were being grown on federal property overseen by the Bureau of
Land Management, which is illegal, Van Patten said. One of the gardens
had been eradicated multiple times before, he said.

On Aug. 4, COMMET and officers from the Ukiah Police Department and
the Mendocino County Probation Department served a warrant at the end
of Woodman Creek at the Eel River.

They found and eradicated almost 2,500 plants from up to 10 sites, Van
Patten said. Those gardens also were out of compliance with the
county's pot rules, he said.

People who have contacted The Press Democrat about stealth pot-cutting
operations said it's suspicious that pot plants were cut and then left
behind, but Allman said that's common this time of year, prior to the
plants' development of buds, the valuable part.

"It's of no value" before then, he said.

Only one person directly affected by the operations was willing to be
interviewed, and only on condition of anonymity. The people providing
secondhand reports also did not want to be identified, saying they
feared retaliation.

The eyewitness said he was legally growing 13 plants in the Eel River
canyon that were cut down Wednesday by men in black who were lowered
by rope from a helicopter. He said he was on his way out and did not
stay to see who they were.

Neither COMMET officers nor the people who work for the private
security company that has been blamed for the raids wear black.

The owner of the security company, Lear Asset Management, said he's
dismayed by the accusations.

The company does marijuana garden cleanups and eradication operations
on private property, but only at the request of the property owners,
Paul Trouette said.

"It's absolutely, definitely not us," he said.
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