Pubdate: Wed, 01 Oct 2014
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts

Cops Answering to CA's Attorney General are the Marijuana-Eradicating 
Agents in Mendocino


Attorney General Kamala Harris has had an uneasy relationship with 
marijuana. As San Francisco's District Attorney, Harris opposed the 
push to legalize marijuana in California in 2010. Marijuana advocates 
still campaigned heavily on her behalf during the AG race that fall, 
claiming the alternative, L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley, was 
much worse. With her margin of victory a meager 75,000 votes, the 
state's roughly 750,000 card-carrying medical marijuana patients may 
have made the difference.

Since her election, Harris has mostly dodged the topic of weed. In 
the marijuana industry's hour of need during 2011's federal 
crackdown, Harris punted "clarifications" of state marijuana law to 
the Legislature. Earlier this year, she laughed off a question from a 
reporter asking if her stance on legalization had changed. That was 
on Aug. 5. That same day, in Mendocino County, law enforcement 
officers working for her state Department of Justice were up in the 
sky in a rented helicopter, looking for marijuana patches to raid 
without warrants.

Several farms in Potter Valley were hit that day. One was almost 
certainly part-time Potrero Hill resident Susan Schindler's. 
Schindler, a champion marijuana grower who took home a Cannabis Cup 
award last year for one of her non-psychoactive, low-THC medical 
strains, was away from her Mendocino plot when she received a frantic 
phone call from a neighbor. He informed her that men in camouflage 
had descended from an unmarked helicopter and were cutting down the garden.

The men who visited her 120-acre spread left no paperwork, no search 
warrants, and no business cards. They also declined to identify 
themselves, her neighbor says. She has yet to be officially informed 
who raided her property. All she has is what's left of the plants, 
which were grown from heirloom genetics developed by master grower 
Lawrence Ringo. The enormous, tree-sized cannabis plants in cages, 
all left in place with a precise cut to the plant's stalk at the 
base, are all now dead and brown, as she later showed off to a 
reporter from CBS-5.

Farther up the valley, helicopters also paid a visit to a farm 
belonging to a grower who wants to be identified only as "Ty." At 
Ty's plot of land, he tells SF Weekly, the copters deposited men who 
identified themselves as members of the "Mendocino Major Crimes Task 
Force," a state-funded outfit led by Special Agent Richard Russell. 
After slicing water lines, draining a 500-gallon water tank Ty used 
for drinking (always a nice touch in a drought), and destroying 50 
plants Ty says he had on two separate parcels of land in compliance 
with county law, the men departed.

Russell, once a member of the state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement 
(which ran anti-weed operations under the banner of CAMP, the 
Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, before Brown gutted the BNE's 
budget in 2011) is now on the state payroll as a prison guard, 
records show. According to Ty, he claimed no allegiance to anyone but 
"the state AG's office." What the men who visited Schindler's garden 
said - referencing state law of a six-plant maximum, rather than the 
county limit of 25 and federal law's zero - suggests they were 
state-level, too.

The anxiety all marijuana growers feel peaks this time of year, when 
plants begin to blossom into valuable commodities, and when a 
veritable alphabet soup of various law enforcement agencies takes to 
the skies: DEA, CAMP, COMMET (County of Mendocino Marijuana 
Eradication Team), state Fish and Wildlife, and local sheriffs.

This year, an additional element was thrown into the mix: private 
security. A firm called LEAR Asset Management, run by a 
marijuana-hating Mendocino man active with the local deer hunters' 
association, won a large contract from a timber company to clear its 
woodlands of outlaw weed growers. He invited media along during a July junket.

LEAR was initially suspected in the Potter Valley raids due to the 
paramilitary tactics and attitudes employed, according to growers' 
accounts - and also due to the fact that no law enforcement agency 
initially claimed responsibility for the raids.

After Ty snapped a photo of the chopper with its N-number on the 
tail, both county and state law enforcement have since confirmed the 
raid. A spokesman for Harris tells SF Weekly that state DOJ officers 
were in on the operation, but that the entire operation answered to 
Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman.

Allman's office says that sheriff's deputies participated in the 
raid, which was a joint operation between them and Russell's task 
force. In an interview Thursday, Allman says that Russell technically 
answers to him and four other local lawmen, but that "there's no 
requirement the state checks in with me."

As for the cut-and-depart tactics: That's all perfectly legal. The 
cannabis-eradicators are using the "open fields doctrine," which 
means that any marijuana stand not within the "curtilage" of a 
residence can be destroyed without a warrant after being spotted from 
the air (ironically, a pot stand can also be cut down if it's too 
close to a house in Mendocino).

Does Harris know what her people are doing in her name? A Harris 
spokesman was still checking into Russell's raid at press time. In 
the meantime, growers who say they are following all the rules are as 
anxious as they've ever been. Now would be a good time for them to 
hear from her.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom