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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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Brush Fire Blows Smoke Into Valley

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MODESTO – Hazy smoke from a Livermore area fire blew into the valley Thursday afternoon.

The incident called the “Tesla Fire” was last reported to be about 250 acres with potential for growth by about 7:00pm.

The fire was spotted shortly before 6:00pm near Tesla Road, west of Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area. Aircraft assigned to the incident reported critical rate of spread reaching 100 acres in a short period of time, with potential to reach at least 500 acres.

Fire crews work to direct the blaze to a riverbed, requesting several tankers and helicopters to assist.

Winds were reported in the Modesto area at about 15mph. Those with sensitivity and health issues should remain indoors.

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Modesto Homicide Victim Identified

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MODESTO – Authorities identified the victim of Tuesday night’s fatal shooting on Ramsey Drive as 29 year old Michelle Rose Gonzales.

Shortly before 9:30pm officers with the Modesto Police Department responded to the 500 block of Ramsey Drive after receiving a call from a child saying their mother had been shot. Arriving officers located the victim in front of her home suffering from gunshot wounds. Life saving efforts were performed, but she died from her injuries.

Detectives responded to continue the investigation and quickly identified the suspect. Authorities discovered he was also a potential suspect in a homicide just a couple hours earlier in San Jose.

Meanwhile, officers with California Highway Patrol located the suspect traveling into the Bay Area and engaged in a pursuit. The pursuit traveled north along Highway 101 and into South San Jose, where the suspect fled on foot and barricaded himself in a shed behind a home near the 100 block of Bendorf Drive. An hours long standoff took place that ended in an officer involved shooting. The suspect was struck by gunfire and taken to a hospital where he was pronounced deceased. The suspect’s identity is yet to be released by officials.

In a GoFundMe account established for Michelle and her children, she was described as a mother of two and a young, beautiful soul who was the victim of a senseless act of domestic violence.

Anyone interested in donating to the fundraiser can do so by CLICKING HERE.

Anyone with information regarding this case is encouraged to contact Detective Ra Pouv at (209) 572-9826, or Crime Stoppers at (209) 521-4636 where callers can remain anonymous.

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Modesto Homicide Suspect Involved in Another Killing, Officer Involved Shooting in San Jose

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SAN JOSE – The suspect involved in Tuesday night’s homicide on Ramsey Drive in Modesto was taken to a hospital following a pursuit and officer involved shooting Wednesday morning.

The Ramsey Drive homicide happened shortly before 9:30pm. Police responded to a report of a person shot and located a 29 year old woman who was injured in the shooting. Emergency personnel attempted life saving measures but the victim died from her injuries.

Later in the night, officers with California Highway Patrol engaged in a pursuit with the suspect near the Gilroy area. The pursuit continued north on Highway 101 until exiting onto surface streets in South San Jose. Police officers took over the pursuit until it ended near the 100 block of Bendorf Drive. Authorities said the suspect fired at officers during the pursuit.

Officials with the San Jose Police Department believed the suspect was also involved in a homicide in their jurisdiction. That incident happened shortly after 7:00pm near the 1400 block of Mount Shasta Drive. An adult male victim in that incident was rushed to a hospital with life-threatening injuries but later died. That was San Jose’s 17th homicide of the year.

On Bendorf Drive, the suspect barricaded himself in a property. Shortly before 8:00am he was involved in a shooting again with police after pointing a firearm at authorities and was taken to a hospital in critical condition.

Both incidents are still under investigation. Anyone with information regarding this case is encouraged to contact the Modesto Police Department or Crime Stoppers at (209) 521-4636 where callers can remain anonymous.

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