Counter-drug operations garner multi-million dollar seizures of illicit drugs in Siskiyou County
Sheriff Gives Annual Drug Enforcement Summary to Board of Supervisors
“Counter-drug operations garner multi-million dollar seizures of illicit drugs in county”
On Tuesday, January 7, 2020, Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey provided a 2019 annual drug enforcement update to the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors. The totals included seizures from the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) Siskiyou Interagency Marijuana Investigation Team (SIMIT), seizures from the regional North State Major Investigation Team (NSMIT), and a wrap-up of 2018 totals for the Siskiyou Unified Major Investigation Team (SUMIT). SIMIT is a SCSO drug task force that primarily enforces current county ordinances and state law that related to illicit marijuana drug trafficking on private property areas of the county. NSMIT is a drug task force that is led to the California Department of Justice (CA DOJ) and its orientation is regional in nature but the team spends much of its time in Siskiyou County, enforcing drug laws, including illegal marijuana violations in public land and private land areas of the county.
SIMIT, the SCSO drug task force unit working to eradicate numerous illegal marijuana cultivation sites on a variety of private property parcels in many parts of the county, had a very busy year and nearly doubled their seizures from the previous year. During 2019, SIMIT detectives served 154 search warrants throughout the county. SIMIT seized 44,369 illegal marijuana plants and confiscated 16,759.5 pounds of processed marijuana. Nine arrests, 10 citations, and 15 firearms were seized. $29,596.00 in drug currency was seized. During routine traffic stops, mostly near the end of the marijuana harvest season, SCSO deputies seized 63 illicit plants and 2,074.4 pounds of processed or partially-processed marijuana from vehicles during those traffic stops, in addition to the SIMIT seizures aforementioned.
NSMIT enforcement totals included the seizure of 17,230 illicit marijuana plants and the confiscation of 1,044 pounds of processed marijuana. NSMIT made eight arrests and seized three firearms. NSMIT includes a long-serving SCSO detective sergeant and other federal, state, and local agency participants.
Combining the SIMIT and NSMIT seizure totals for Siskiyou County, there were 61,599 illicit marijuana plants seized and 17,763.5 pounds of processed marijuana confiscated during their operations in various parts of the county.
Estimated values of the illicit marijuana seized in the county by SIMIT and NSMIT, using East Coast retail drug values, based on an average 3-pound-plant-yield in the county, totals $369,594,000.00 to $554,391,000.00 for the illegal marijuana plants. For the seized processed marijuana, based on estimated East Coast retail drug values ($2,000 to 3,000 per pound price, which can be lower or higher, depending on the location), ranged from $35,527,000.00 to $53,290,500.00. Total value of the illicit marijuana seized in Siskiyou County by SIMIT and NSMIT (illegal plants and processed marijuana) ranges from $405 million to $607.7 million.
SUMIT, a 30+ year drug task force that until January 1, 2020, was led by CA DOJ, is a team made-up of SCSO, California Highway Patrol (CHP), and the Yreka Police Department (YPD). Siskiyou County Probation Department recently pledged support for SUMIT as well. SUMIT has, for over 30-years, enforced drug trafficking laws related to illicit drugs such as methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl, prescription drugs, cocaine, and other illegal varieties used, sold, or transported in the county or transited on our highways. Unfortunately, despite a concerted effort by local law enforcement officials and public elected officials to keep CA DOJ in the task force, a decision by CA DOJ to pull out of the task force was reaffirmed and implemented. There is an effort underway by law enforcement leaders, including Chief Dave Gamache, YPD, and the SUMIT Board Chair, to maintain the SUMIT task force capabilities by placing its members under the CA DOJ NSMIT umbrella. Totals for enforcement for SUMIT will encompass 2018 statistics since 2019 enforcement numbers are not yet available.
What differentiates 2019 marijuana enforcement with previous years is the link the marijuana drug trade has to felonious assaults and murders in Siskiyou County. During a SIMIT drug raid a suspect was arrested for an outstanding murder arrest warrant and another man was arrested for a major felony assault arrest warrant from another state, while serving a search warrant in the Mt. Shasta Vista area of the county. That murder suspect, hiding out with relatives in Siskiyou County, allegedly committed a murder at a marijuana-related site in Sacramento County, which precipitated the arrest warrant and a collaborative effort between SCSO and the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office. In Siskiyou County, which had five homicides recorded during 2019, SCSO saw a troubling trend that linked marijuana operations directly or indirectly to a murder that occurred in February 2019, a double homicide that occurred in March 2019, and another murder victim slain in the county was known to have a small marijuana business but the link at this point between his death and marijuana is not known. The double homicide of two women at a marijuana site in the Pleasant Valley Estates of Butte Valley is particularly troubling. Another attempted murder case involving a “shots fired” call at another marijuana cultivation site in Mt. Shasta Vista involving a man and his spouse, with four children present, was also investigated by SCSO during 2019.
The 154 SIMIT search warrants and additional search warrants and seizures from NSMIT disrupted numerous illegal drug trafficking operations as evidenced by the fact the thousands of plants seized were high-yield plants and the processed marijuana far exceeded any reasonable amount even remotely justified for medicinal or recreational use and were recovered in amounts and often in packaging configurations that obviously indicated the illicit product was destined to the illegal marijuana drug black market. Additional tools of the drug trade were confiscated during some drug raids, including a money counter, vacuum sealers for packing the illegal marijuana for transportation and sales, digital scales, and similar items typically used by drug traffickers.
Processed marijuana is mature marijuana that has been harvested and it is typically trimmed and packaged for transportation and illegal sales. This is normally indicated by preparation and packaging configurations.
Assisting with most of the operations were patrol deputies, sergeants, management personnel, correctional deputies, SIMIT detectives from SCSO and members of SCSO’s evidence-property team. Soldiers from the California Army (and Air) National Guard’s (CARNG) Counter-Drug Unit assisted with many of the operations as well. Detectives or Special Agents from the CA DOJ-led drug task force SUMIT sometimes assisted the effort. Occasional assistance was received from the United States Forest Service (Law Enforcement Officers).
At times assistance was received from the California Highway Patrol’s (CHP) H-14 or H-16 helicopter crews, which proved helpful. During the recent search warrant to arrest the murder suspect from Sacramento County, the crew identified fleeing suspects attempting to escape from one of the sites, including the murder suspect, which helped lead to his arrest and the apprehension of another wanted felon. Siskiyou County Public Works road crews provided invaluable assistance, especially near the end of the harvest season, since marijuana plants are large, cumbersome, and difficult to eradicate due to their size and mature weight. Public Works crew dump trucks and bottom dump loaders help to save time, effort, and exposure involving the large, mature, and heavy marijuana plants. Siskiyou County Planning Department code enforcement officers were also helpful on some operations by citing offenders for quality of life issues related to sewage, lack of wells, refuse, and illegal building structures, which are common in the impacted areas. Occasionally, assistance and support was received from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, especially when watersheds were threatened by illicit marijuana cultivation sites. The CHP participates in NSMIT and SUMIT by providing full-time agents for these task forces. YPD and SCSO provide investigators for both NSMIT and SUMIT.
Although not counted in the county-wide marijuana seizure totals, SUMIT, during 2018 (most recent statistics available) seized 617.28 pounds of illegal marijuana and 314.2 grams of concentrated cannabis. During 2018, SUMIT also seized 12,412 grams of methamphetamine, 10,644.3 grams of heroin, and task force agents confiscated 83 illegally-possessed firearms.
SCSO has also been heavily involved in drug prevention with its partners from Behavioral Health Services, which helps fund the DARE (Drug Awareness Resistance Education) in Siskiyou County schools. The primary instructor, Reserve Deputy Jim Jacobsen was recently commended for effectively teaching DARE classes at 16 county schools, which involved the education of 1,213 students. Overwhelming support has been experienced from parents, teachers, school administrators, and students and others affiliated with the schools and students. The new DARE program is an evidence-based curriculum that includes problem-solving exercises and safe habits, including but not limited to avoidance of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco products, preventing and responding to bullying, gun safety, reacting to stranger danger, and related topics.
Siskiyou County officials have enacted an ordinance that prohibits all outdoor marijuana cultivation in county areas and growers are limited to 12-plants inside an approved structure, for medical marijuana. Recreational marijuana possession on private property, pursuant to Prop 64, is limited to six marijuana plants, which may be grown in a residence or other approved, enclosed structure.
The proliferation of illicit marijuana cultivation sites has endangered people, harmed the environment, and promoted a major interstate drug trafficking industry originating from within the county. Dangers associated with the proliferation of marijuana have proven to be particularly harmful to children and the environment. On January 7, 2020, during their regularly-scheduled meeting, the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voted to approve a new “Local State of Emergency” because of the numerous and potentially devastating impacts that illicit marijuana cultivation sites and illicit, organized drug trafficking organizations are exacting on the county and its citizenry, including critical public health, social welfare, justice, and environmental clean-up challenges. According to Sheriff Jon Lopey, “The illicit marijuana drug trade in Siskiyou County is harming our children and environment the most and I applaud our Board of Supervisors for taking a stand and supporting law enforcement, our kids, our citizens, and their actions are helping to stop the wholesale drug trafficking of illicit marijuana produced in our county destined for countless communities throughout the country.”
Illicit marijuana cultivation sites in the county, both on public and private lands have presented a threat to watersheds, fish and wildlife, and have contributed to chronic quality of life and fire hazard-related challenges in several county communities. Marijuana-related activities have been linked to deaths, including carbon monoxide poisonings, murders, assaults, and traffic fatalities within the county. Fire dangers are also very evident in most of these illegal grow sites. Illegal marijuana cultivation sites use significant amounts of water and it is estimated approximately 2.5 to 3-million gallons of water a day are being used to grow illegal cannabis products on private property in the county. Public land consumption of water could be higher, although the trend this year indicates many cartels and organized marijuana purveyors are moving from public to private lands.
According to Sheriff Jon Lopey, “These counter-drug operations, which resulted in the seizure of a large quantity of illegal marijuana plants, a significant seizure of processed cannabis products, illegal firearms, drug currency, and major arrests, orchestrated in partnership with federal, state, and local partners, yielded positive results and more importantly, no one was hurt during the potentially-dangerous missions in various parts of the county. The 2019 enforcement totals are double from the previous year and provide convincing evidence of a multi-million dollar illegal drug trafficking industry operating in Siskiyou County, the region, and state. The seizures clearly substantiate the intent of local illegal drug producers to deliberately violate state, federal, and county laws and/or ordinance provisions.”
SCSO has received invaluable assistance and support from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which has provided most of the funding for the department’s counter-drug operations through DCESP (Domestic Cannabis Eradication Support Program). A recent briefing to DEA officials from Washington DC at the Yreka SCSO Headquarters, on December 4, 2019, resulted in a tentative commitment from DEA to provide additional funds to SCSO for marijuana enforcement efforts during 2020, which relieves the county of expending precious fiscal resources for this purpose. Siskiyou County is also designated a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) by the U.S. Department of Justice, which assists with drug enforcement funding for NSMIT and other endeavors essential to the North State and Siskiyou County. CARNG Counter-Drug Unit support, which provided ‘boots on the ground’ for many of these operations was definitely pivotal, along with the support from other allied-agencies. There are numerous marijuana-related prosecutions pending, some with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and some with the Siskiyou County District Attorney. Anyone with information about illegal marijuana cultivation operations in their county neighborhoods or the cases subject to these recent counter-drug operations is urged to contact the SCSO’s 24-hour Dispatch Center at (530) 841-2900.
Recent DARE Graduation at Bogus Elementary School – With photo of “Deputy Dare”
Processed marijuana awaiting packaging for transport to other states
Seized packaged marijuana prepared for transportation and sale out-of-state
Typical illegal marijuana cultivation site and county dump truck full of eradicated plants
2 U.S. Attorneys, DEA – Washington DC Officials, with
Sheriff Lopey and NSMIT and SIMIT supervisors during
visit & presentation conducted December 4, 2019 in Yreka