Last week Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto told the county board that, after receiving complaints and concerns about illegal grows in California, in the past few weeks the sheriff’s department has served nine search warrants.
He said, “We’re being very vigilant about those that are illegal. We’re taking an appropriate course of action.” He estimated that they have confiscated or destroyed over $14 million worth of allegedly illegal cannabis.
The sheriff made it clear: “We are not… the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department is not going to allow and we’re going to stay extremely vigilant to the illegal grows and make sure that we take the appropriate course of action. Hopefully if we continue doing this, the illegal growers are going to decide to stop or go to another county.”
But according to one man, who asked the Vanguard not to be identified, his home in rural Yolo County was raided and he had valid permitting.
He told the Vanguard he had a back injury and had surgery in February of this year. However, the operation went bad and, instead of helping him, both of his legs are numb. “I have a lot of pain and a lot of numbness,” he said. “So I ended up thinking maybe I could grow some marijuana for my pain.”
He hired a guy, a former vet, to help grow the marijuana.
They received a letter that alleged they grew commercial cannabis. The letter showed up on a Friday. He came home at 4 pm on that Friday and the letter was dated the same day as an appointment at 3:30
He called an attorney who told him that, typically, “we just represent people who have been formally charged. Those are just allegations. We suggest that you don’t self-incriminate yourself and you have the right to remain silent.”
He responded to the letter to let them know that he received the letter too late to make the appointment and apologized for any inconvenience. He also provided them with his post office box number and correct phone number so that they could contact him directly in the future.
He waited to hear back from them. On Wednesday, however, he had a doctor’s appointment. When he left, that’s when they showed up. “They broke my gate,” he said. “They got my dog and put him in a kennel. He was scared to death.
“They came and kicked in my front door to the house,” he said. They busted into personal items like farming equipment, welding equipment, and camping gear. “They took all the plants and left only six plants.”
He said he came home at 3:30 and these guys were there without any type of badges or identification on them. “They’re just dressed in camo,” he said. “It looks like they’re pretty much robbing the place.
“I confront them and say, ‘hey what the hell you guys doing here?’” he explained. “They’re like, ‘are you the owner?’ and I’m like, ‘yeah I’m the owner.’”
They threw him on the ground. He said he thought they were going to shoot him.
“It was a very humiliating experience,” he said. His 14-year-old daughter, a freshman in high school, came home and saw them doing this.
They were thrashing the place, he said. “They literally went overboard to break things.”
The guy he had hired to do the cultivation, who had been living in his trailer – they found some shot gun shells that were his and charged him with that. Otherwise they would have just charged him with a misdemeanor.
He said, “All of this – a warrant to thrash my place for a misdemeanor ticket is ridiculous.
“There was no need for them to break all of my stuff and treat me like this, all for a misdemeanor offense,” he said.
He now feels like he has to defend himself and “prove my innocence.”
The letter was an allegation of growing the cannabis for commercial purposes. However, he explained that he has a license that he went and applied for – a 420 medical evaluation, from Senate Bill 420 for medical marijuana, a permit that allows him to grow up to 99 plants for medicinal purposes.
He said he had 92 plants which would have put him in compliance with the permit.
They ended up confiscating his cellphone. When he was going to cancel his cell service due to the phone confiscation he discovered that they had used Stingray technology to intercept his phone calls.
He said he discovered this when his computer was acting weird and the details indicated, “Stingray operation. It explained step by step, exactly what it went through.”
The use of a Stingray device gained notoriety in Sacramento back in 2015 when the public defender’s office filed a motion asking a judge to order the Sacramento County DA to turn over names of clients whose cellphones were being “were secretly tracked with a high-tech and controversial surveillance tool that allowed law enforcement to collect location data from investigative targets.”
According to a September 15, 2015, Bee article, “The device’s technology mimics a cellular network’s cell tower, tricking a cellphone and other mobile devices into connecting to it. The cellphones can be identified and text messages and outgoing calls can be intercepted without the users’ knowledge. Law enforcement can then use the information to collect location data from investigative targets.”
No one the Vanguard spoke to on Monday was aware of its use in Yolo County, although at the time this issue came forward, it was believed that the surveillance tool could extend into Yolo County.
He told the Vanguard, “I think they are going above and beyond their scope. If this was just about marijuana cultivation – why are they trying so hard to find more dirt?
“Now I have to go defend myself at court for this,” he said. “I just don’t understand why they’re doing this to me.”
He said, “It’s very shameful what they did.” He felt like they should have handled this more professionally and he was expecting to have a meeting with officials to clarify the situation. Instead, he feels like “they are trying to make a name for themselves by busting ‘criminals.’
“It’s a freaking misdemeanor – I don’t understand why they did what they did.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting