Two weeks ago, the Vanguard reported on the TRIDENT raid, that occurred on September 14 on the legal medical marijuana business near Winters operated by Ted Hicks and Ryan Mears.
TRIDENT is described as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Drug Task Force. The TRIDENT team consists of narcotic investigators from local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
TRIDENT is “responsible for the investigation of large scale drug trafficking organizations (DTOs), who cultivate and traffic marijuana and other illicit controlled substances within the state of California and internationally. TRIDENT primarily conducts investigations of major drug trafficking organizations operating within the Central Valley of California.”
One of the big questions is why TRIDENT would conduct a raid in Yolo County, rather than local drug enforcement officials such as the Yolo Narcotic Enforcement Team (YONET).
As Agent Jason Westgate described in his statement of probable cause for a search warrant that the Vanguard received, TRIDENT received information about marijuana being cultivated in the location near Winters, but was “unable to conduct any investigation in the cultivation of the marijuana at that time.”
A year later, in August 2016, they received information, this time from YONET, and began an investigation into the location. After conducting aerial surveillance, Agent Crooks with TRIDENT said “he observed approximately 1000 marijuana plants concealed in an open area in the middle of a walnut orchard.”
Checking again with YONET, Agent Westgate writes that he located a business for Big Red Farms which “listed that they were in the business of medical cannabis cultivation.”
YONET is comprised of officers from all the law enforcement agencies: Yolo County Sheriff’s Department, Yolo County Department of Probation, UC Davis, Davis Police Department, Woodland Police Department and West Sacramento Police Department. Winters is not a formal member but contributes funding.
What many do not realize is that YONET is technically housed under the Davis Police Department. The task force commander is a Davis PD sergeant. He reports to Lt. Paul Doroshov of the Davis Police Department, who reports to Davis Police Chief Darren Pytel.
Chief Pytel in turn reports to the other police chiefs, District Attorney Jeff Reisig and Sheriff Ed Prieto. They make decisions jointly.
Chief Pytel told the Vanguard that they do not release the names of the agents working for YONET.
According to Chief Pytel, “this was not a YONET operation.” He said, “Trident called YONET regarding the warrant and asked for assistance in serving it. We sent an agent to be on scene.”
Chief Pytel, in fact, was not directly aware that YONET agents had supplied information to TRIDENT about the marijuana cultivation operation. “We have no info regarding that,” he told the Vanguard, although when we showed him the statement of probable cause, he did not dispute it.
He said, “Officers are constantly exchanging information. It’s a normal and every day thing. They don’t need to get permission to do that.”
He said that he considers this exchange of information “pretty normal in cases” like this. He said, “A lot of the time we don’t have resources or time to do investigations, especially with grows. You can pass it on and see if someone else wants to do it. It’s my understanding the sheriff’s department gets a lot of illegal grow complaints.”
“Grows aren’t something we normally have an interest in. But I guess TRIDENT does,” he explained.
The laws are still evolving here and YONET and other Yolo County agencies have made the decision not to get involved in the marijuana business until the laws become more clear. But, as marijuana becomes legal, that may change as current law is very stringent on quantity and the ability of commercial entities to sell and distribute marijuana.
There will also be taxes that need to be collected and detailed state regulations.
Still, for some, this marijuana raid strikes us as more about politics than anything else. Attorney Mark Reichel, who represents the defendants in this case, believes that the reason why Yolo County did not go after these individuals is that “Yolo County didn’t care.”
He added, “When you look at medical marijuana in this county, I think the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department handles that.”
The men had gone through the trouble of getting licensed and taking all the legal steps needed. The politics of Yolo County are that it strongly supported both the Medical Marijuana proposition from 20 years ago as well as the Recreational Marijuana initiative just passed in November, two months after the raid.
Initially, the Yolo County DA’s office had distanced themselves from the raid, even though the signature of Michael Vroman, a deputy DA, was on the search warrant. However, at the end of the year, on December 28, 2016, Mr. Vroman signed the criminal complaint against Ted Hicks and Ryan Mears.
A group like TRIDENT, comprised of local, state and federal agents, has the ability to go anywhere in the state that they want. In fact, as explained to the Vanguard, any police agency or officer can take action anywhere in the state of California – of course, for the most part they do not have a reason to.
“California by ballot box, we made it a police state now,” Attorney Mark Reichel explained. “They treat drugs the same as they do terrorism. It’s a police state.
“Now by decision, officers can go to other counties to effectuate arrests and do searches,” he said. “The police state is here.”
Brandon Olivera was the commander of TRIDENT which conducted the raids. For Mr. Olivera, the Yolo DA’s decision to charge the men validates their operation.
“I guess TRIDENT isn’t such a terrorist group after all,” he told the LA Times. “We’ve taken a bath in the media and other law enforcement, and thank God the Yolo County D.A. did the right thing.”
The question now is whether the residents of Yolo County, most of whom voted for Prop. 64 two months ago, want agents of YONET cooperating with outside groups like TRIDENT to perform raids of facilities that our local government agencies licensed.
—David M. Greenwald reporting