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Operation Green Day Targets Illegal Marijuana Grows, Reveals More Concerns

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Deputies take samples to be analyzed from an illegal outdoor marijuana grow on Sam Avenue.

STANISLAUS COUNTY – A week-long operation targeting illegal marijuana grows and the associated crimes that come along with them revealed a myriad of concerns.

The May 31st to June 4th operation codenamed “Green Day” set its sights on over 60 properties across Stanislaus County in both residential and rural settings. The mission was a joint effort between various agencies including the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office, teams from the Bureau of Cannabis Control, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, County Animal Services, and police services for the communities of Waterford, Hughson, Patterson and Riverbank. Support was provided by the Stanislaus Regional 911 center, a team of crime and data analysts, special investigators, air support and SWAT.

In addition to the arm of law enforcement involved in the operation, representatives from Stanislaus County Public Works and code enforcement were on hand as well.

Each day began with a briefing, which consisted of a team meeting to formulate a plan to execute warrants at each given location. The briefing would analyze and assess threat risks, potential suspects that may be at the location, entry points to the properties, and assignments for each deputy. By 7:00am, each team was on its way to their location.

Thursday morning we were invited along to observe the CRU team. The first two locations happened to be on the same road, separated only by one house. The team opted to surround both properties simultaneously. The strategy paid off, as workers tending to the grow quickly attempted to flee on foot but were quickly detained. During a search of the properties, one person was found hiding behind sheets of heavy black plastic along a fence line. A handgun and pellet rifle were found at the properties.

Once the properties were secured, we were allowed to take a look at the grows. Each grow took up at least half the space on each property, totaling perhaps a half acre. Greenhouses were made of lumber and PVC pipe and covered in plastic. Electrical wiring into the grows was clearly unsafe and obviously not up to code. Deputies mentioned it was at least the second time they had served a warrant on these properties.

Inside of the houses, the living conditions were bad. Entering the home, there was a dirty old couch in the doorway. Much of the home had been cleared to dry and process harvested marijuana. Metal lines were tied from wall to wall to hang harvested plants.

In the kitchen sat a propane tank and a grill. Some leftover bacon and eggs sat in a pan, while against the opposite wall an open pack of cigarettes sat on a mini refrigerator. A pile of clothing sat nearby, but there was no table or chairs to sit on. There were cracks and holes in the walls and floors. The bathroom was located in the back of the home, in poor condition because of its disuse. The shower head was modified to route water out through a hole in the wall to the grow outside. Sadly, this was the cleaner of the properties we would see throughout the day.

Deputies counted and took samples of plants and photographed evidence gathered at the scene. Two friendly dogs were taken by animal services, and soon after a front loader was brought to destroy the grow operation on site. By this time the sun was peaking, bringing on the hotter part of the day.

Back at the command post in the sheriff’s office, analysts tallied data from each location. A dispatcher in the same room coordinated communications with the teams in the field.

After a short lunch break, the team held a briefing for its next location. The warrant was for a large compound in the west county area. At least one of the suspects connected to the grow was previously arrested at the first site. Images of the property showed trailers, outbuildings, and several greenhouses surrounded by tall metal sheet walls, as well as several broken down vehicles around the home.

A set of bolt cutters was used to open a large sliding gate. It was the only entry point for the property. A flash-bang device was used to divert attention as deputies made entry to begin their search, as a team off-site used a drone to watch from above. No one was located on this property, and half of the grow had already been harvested. One had already been replanted with cloned plants, while two others had fully mature plants. It is unclear why the property was left unattended.

This property was in a worse state of disrepair. The kitchen was very similar to the first locations, but there were plants and clones sitting on countertops and the floor. Dirt and mold covered the floor as with the previous home, but the stench of leaking sewage makes one wonder how anyone could stay inside.

In what would have been the family room of the home, deputies searched under a mattress and through luggage. A tightly packed suitcase held several changes of clothes. Most of it was jeans and sweaters. A coat and some shirts. The luggage was a clear indicator of a nomadic lifestyle, one thing deputies said was common among those working grow operations. They could manage multiple grows or bounce between communities, moved by those they work for. On a shelf sat two statues of Saint Jude with dollar bills pinned to them. A belief that the act would bring financial blessing to those who displayed it, according to one deputy. Also a common sight at marijuana grows.

In the next room over, deputies searched through another piece of luggage. A pink wallet revealed two passports from Mexico. One belonged to a man and the other a woman, barely about 21 years old. It was unclear how they ended up working here, but officials said the possibility that they were being trafficked was very real. Some immigrants who are smuggled across the border can be placed to work in grow operations to pay off a debt. These operations are typically tied to cartels, and often times prevent the workers from leaving the properties they are tending.

In other grows, deputies found an unresponsive elderly woman who required hospitalization. She had been neglected and had bed sores. There were also child endangerment issues, after children had been found at some of the grow sites. Emaciated animals at another property. In the airport neighborhood, authorities arrested an out of compliance sex offender.

None of the grows raided were operating within legal limits. Six plants per property is the permitted amount, and the grow cannot be outdoors. Many were stealing utilities. Most, if not all complaints came from neighbors near the grows.

“Oftentimes, they are the targets of violent, take-over style home invasions where people are armed with weapons,” read a press release from the Sheriff’s Office. “Shootings, robberies, aggravated assaults, kidnappings and burglaries are some of the unintended victimization consequences for those trying to profit from the sales of black-market marijuana.”

In total, 64 properties were searched. The operation resulted in just over 74,000 marijuana plants eradicated with an estimated street value of nearly $100 million dollars. Nearly 1700 pounds of processed marijuana was found, 46 firearms and over $172,000 in cash was seized. Utility companies shut off power to 26 locations, and 16 code enforcement referrals were made. Unsafe and dangerous living conditions resulted in arrests for both child and adult endangerment. 83 individuals were either arrested or cited during the operation.

Carlos Rodriguez is an Emmy Award winning photojournalist specializing in public safety and natural disasters. His passion for local news stems from a deep commitment to his community, with a selfless mission to inform the citizens of the valley. As he worked on assignment for 19 days at the devastating Camp Fire in Paradise, California, he spent most of his time helping survivors contact their loved ones to let them know they were ok. Carlos is a veteran of Univision, FOX, and Telemundo TV stations and a native of Modesto, California.

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Fire Damages Turlock Home

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TURLOCK – A home suffered significant damage Sunday night during a fire.

The fire was dispatched at about 11:45pm. Several fire crews responded to the fire at the home on the 1000 block of South Johnson Road. Firefighters reported a visible column of smoke as they responded to the scene.

Arriving firefighters reported heavy fire from the second floor of the home. Crews from Denair and Turlock Rural Fire Departments responded to the scene.

A second alarm was called shortly before midnight for additional resources.

At time of publication a cause and damage estimate was not available.

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Schools Locked Down for Suspect Search

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MODESTO – Two schools were placed on lockdown during a search for a suspect Friday afternoon.

The incident happened at about 1:00pm when a Stanislaus County Sheriff Deputy noticed a vehicle that had been reported stolen on Dallas Street near Glenn Avenue. The driver of the stolen vehicle appeared to be talking to someone in the area, according to officials at the scene.

The driver ran away on foot as deputies made their approach. The man jumped fences through a yard and fled into an alleyway. The Stanislaus Sheriff Air Unit spotted the man making his way into a yard on Las Vegas Street.

Bret Harte Elementary and Hanshaw Middle School were placed on lockdown as a search team was organized. Within a few minutes the man was located hiding under a vehicle and quickly detained without incident.

By 2:00pm the lockdowns were lifted. No injuries were reported.

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Stockton Police Investigate Fatal Shooting

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STOCKTON – Police investigated the fatal shooting of a man in broad daylight Tuesday afternoon.

At about 3:30pm Officers responded to the 900 block of Porter Avenue for a report of a shooting. A 29 year old man was found at the scene suffering from at least one gunshot wound. He was taken by ambulance to a hospital where he died from his injuries.

Residents in the area reported hearing a gunshot shortly before police arrived.

Porter Avenue was closed by authorities while detectives responded to investigate the case. No suspect information or motive was available Tuesday night.

Anyone with information regarding this case is encouraged to contact police at (209) 937-8377 or Crime Stoppers at (209) 946-0600 where callers can remain anonymous.

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