Fort Bragg Barbecue

by Bruce McEwen, July 19, 2017

In the early afternoon of June 11th of this year, a couple of guys from Chicago busted through the front door of a Harrison Street residence in Fort Bragg, interrupting a barbecue in progress, and took several pounds of pot at gunpoint.

According to the Fort Bragg Police Press Release, the primary victim of the home invasion, a Mr. Daniel Armes of Fort Bragg had, a month earlier, invited a 17-year old juvenile and Charles Truth Williams, 19, of Peoria, Illinois, to come on by for a barbecue next time they were in town.

And they did.

About one hour after the barbecue started, with Williams and the kid kicking back like nuthin’ wazzup, Ladarius Dwight Washington comes through the door waving a semi-automatic handgun. Washington told the barbecue hosts, Armes and Hill, to give him everything they had or he would kill them. At that moment Williams and the juvenile pulled handguns and pointed them at Armes and Hill. The three took 9 pounds of processed marijuana and fled the residence.

Washington, Williams

That’s what happened according to the Fort Bragg Police Department based on the rapid-fire statements of Daniel Armes who was so upset he kept pacing up and down the room as he described what happened to the Fort Bragg cops. The other guy, or victim, a Mr. Garry Hill, had remained seated and calm. Hill hadn’t seen any guns, he said. Hill’s version was that the two guys from Chicago tried to blackmail him for the six pounds of marijuana, which they took and then ran off to a red Toyota parked across the street.

The Windy City bandits sped off.

Fort Bragg Police Corporal Wesley Rafanan got the call from dispatch, collected his SWAT gear and proceeded to the Conservation Camp Road on Highway 20 to be on the lookout for a red Toyota with a driver and two passengers thought to be somewhere on Highway 20. The occupants of the Toyota were described as armed and dangerous.

Deputy DA Luke Oakley asked officer Rafanan: “When did you arrive?”

Corporal Rafanan: “It was at approximately 14:18 hours [20 minutes after two o’clock, civilian time].”

Oakley: “Where was this?”

Rafanan: “Conservation Camp Road and Highway 20.”

Oakley: “What type of vehicle were you in?”

Rafanan: “A black and white patrol car with overhead lights.”

Oakley: “How were you dressed?”

Rafanan: “In my SWAT uniform, which is OD [olive drab] green with camo.”

Oakley: “Anything to identify you as a police officer?”

Rafanan: “Yes, my badge on a strap around my neck, and also the police insignia patches on my uniform.”

Oakley: “Do you remember where you first saw the suspect vehicle?”

Rafanan: “When I first saw it it was on Chamberlain Creek and Highway 20. By the time I made a U-turn, they were crossing the bridge at mile marker post 17.00.”

Oakley: “What did you do?”

Rafanan: “I intended to catch up, so I accelerated.”

Oakley: “Did you turn on your overhead lights and siren?”

Rafanan: “Yes. My car was lit up like a Christmas tree.”

Oakley: “What did the red Toyota do?”

Rafanan: “I saw it pass a few cars on blind curves, and it was going probably 55 to 65 miles per hour on the curves.”

Oakley: “Were there any vehicles in between you and the red Toyota?”

Rafanan: “Two or three pulled over, so yes. And by the time we got to the next straight stretch, they’d overtaken another vehicle and merged back in.”

Oakley: “So they moved into the oncoming lane?”

Rafanan: “Yes. There were other vehicles and no place for them to pull over, so I still couldn’t catch up.”

Oakley: “How fast were you going?”

Rafanan: “About 78 miles per hour, except for the curves where I slowed down to 65.”

Oakley: “What’s the posted speed limit?”

Rafanan: “It’s posted at 55.”

Oakley: “What is the roadway like?”

Rafanan: “We refer to it as the Seven-Mile Grade. It’s steep and there’s lots of curves.”

Oakley: “Were you able to get in behind the red Toyota?”

Rafanan: “No, it was on a Sunday and at times there were as many as 10 or 12 vehicles in between us.”

Oakley: “Did you lose sight of them?”

Rafanan: “Yes, often we did, because of the roadway, the curves and traffic.”

Oakley: “Officer [Anthony] Melendez was with you — did he up-date Dispatch as to your location?”

Rafanan: “Yes, and I believe some of our SWAT members were converging.”

Oakley: “Did you sometimes see the red Toyota?”

Rafanan: “Yes. After we passed Miracle Road, a deputy sheriff’s vehicle passed us at a high rate of speed, then the suspect vehicle pulled off at a logging road and driveway. They were allegedly armed so we gave them a good distance — maybe 30 to 40 yards.”

Oakley: “What type of area was this in?”

Rafanan: “Open grassland, with a small grove of trees.”

Oakley: “Did you give them any kind of commands?”

Rafanan: “Yes. We yelled, ‘Get out of the car! Keep your hands up!’”

Oakley: “Did they respond to these commands?”

Rafanan: “Yes. They accelerated and crossed Highway 20, fishtailed, and headed back to the south on a driveway.”

Oakley: “Did they do this in a safe manner?”

Rafanan: “No. Another car was coming and had to swerve out of the roadway, as the suspect vehicle again took off on Highway 20.”

Oakley: “What did you do?”

Rafanan: “We got back in the patrol vehicle and continued to pursue them.”

Oakley: “Were they still going at a high rate of speed?”

Rafanan: “Actually, they had slowed down because of the rain.”

Oakley: “Did you catch up to them?”

Rafanan: “Not at first. Officer Melendez asked Willits PD and the sheriff’s deputies to cut them off, because I didn’t want them to enter the city of Willits. We didn’t want to pressure them as they were going into town.”

Oakley: “What happened next?”

Rafanan: “The Willits PD deployed a spike strip right there by the horse ranch and the pallet factory — that was their jurisdiction, so I backed off.”

Oakley: “Did you see the vehicle make contact with the spike strip?”

Rafanan: “I couldn’t really tell, but their speed went down to 40 or so, and continued to go down, until two deputies approached. I heard they had Mr. Armes with them to identify the suspects, and I noticed the tires were all flat.”

Oakley: “How long had you been in pursuit?”

Rafanan: “I believe 15 miles or so. The east-bound traffic was pretty heavy and there was no place to pull over, so we couldn’t get around, nor could we see them in places because of the curves.”

Oakley: “But packages of marijuana were found along the highway?”

Rafanan: “Yes.”

Oakley: “Who was the driver?”

Rafanan: “Mr. Washington.”

Oakley: “Who was in the passenger seat?”

Rafanan: “Mr. Williams.”

Oakley: “Anyone else in the vehicle?”

Rafanan: “Yes, a Mr. Sandberg [17 year old “juvenile”] was in the back seat.”

Oakley: “Did you speak to Mr. Williams?”

Rafanan: “Yes.”

Oakley: “What did he tell you?”

Rafanan: “He said they came to California for a vacation and to buy marijuana.”

Oakley: “Did he say they were all three from Illinois?”

Rafanan: “Yes.”

Oakley: “Had Williams ever purchased marijuana in Fort Bragg before?”

Rafanan: “He described his other deals as low-level.”

Oakley: “But he said he purchased it?”

Rafanan: “Yes.”

Oakley: “Did he say how much?”

Rafanan: “I don’t believe he did.”

Oakley: “Did he have any cash?”

Rafanan: “Yes.”

Oakley: “How much?”

Rafanan: “I didn’t count it.” (Another officer counted $4,500.)

Oakley: “Did Mr. Williams tell you about the deal?”

Rafanan: “He said he never went inside the residence, but took a couple of pounds and left.”

Oakley: “Did you speak to Mr. Sandberg?”

Rafanan: “Yes.”

Oakley: “What did he tell you?”

Rafanan: “He said they took the bus from Chicago for a vacation in Fort Bragg and were later invited to a barbecue. He said he was standing in the kitchen when a guy pulled a knife and things got really weird.”

Oakley: “Did he say anything about marijuana?”

Rafanan: “He said things got weird, so they took a couple of pounds extra and left.”

(The comment may sound odd (absurd, even) to those who are unfamiliar with Fort Bragg, where one of the best-selling tourist items is a tee-shirt that says, “I’m A Fort Bragg Oddity.”)

Oakley: “Extra what?”

Rafanan: “Pounds.”

Oakley: “Did you later speak with Deputy Camarena?”

Rafanan: “Yes.”

Oakley: “Did he show you what he found?”

Rafanan: “Yes. It was multiple bags of marijuana.”

Oakley: “Did Mr. Armes arrive on the scene after the red Toyota was stopped?”

Rafanan: “Yes, he did.”

Oakley: “Did you advise him these may not be the same individuals?”

Rafanan: “I did, but still he recognized Sandberg and Williams and said they threatened to kill him.”

Oakley: “Did you show him the marijuana recovered from the side of Highway 20?”

Rafanan: “I did, and he recognized it as coming from his home.”

Oakley: “Nothing further.”

Mr. Williams’ lawyer, Alternate Public Defender Jan Cole-Wilson: “How far were you from Fort Bragg when you first spotted the red Toyota?”

Rafanan: “Twenty minutes, or 15, depending on your driving skills.”

Cole-Wilson: “Had anyone else been in pursuit before that time?”

Rafanan: “No, Ma’am.”

Cole-Wilson: “Were any of those packages of marijuana collected before Tenderloin Creek?”

Rafanan: “No, Ma’am.”

Cole-Wilson: “Did you observe any of these items being thrown from the vehicle?”

Rafanan: “No, Ma’am.”

Cole-Wilson: “Do you know where they were located?”

Rafanan: “The mile markers where they were found were written on the back of each one. I couldn’t tell you the numbers without looking. But, if you’re familiar with Highway 20, they were mostly right there where the old weigh-station scales used to be.”

Cole-Wilson: “Were there any firearms found?”

Rafanan: “No. Ma’am; none. From what I understand, they looked, but they’ll probably never find it.”

Cole-Wilson: “Uhmm… Now, where they pulled over — in this area, you got out and had guns drawn?”

Rafanan: “Yes, Ma’am.”

Cole-Wilson: “Because they were reportedly armed?”

Rafanan: “Yes, Ma’am.”

Cole-Wilson: “Does your vehicle have a camera?”

Rafanan: “No, Ma’am, it does not.”

Cole-Wilson: “Do you recall the time?”

Rafanan: “I believe it is in the dispatch log.”

Cole-Wilson: “You indicated… well, let me just ask — how close did you ever get?”

Rafanan: “We were nose-to-nose, at first. Are you familiar with Chamberlain Creek?”

Cole-Wilson: “Well, yeah.”

Rafanan: “The red schoolhouse, you know where that is?”

Cole-Wilson: “Yes.”

Rafanan: “Well, at the end of that straightaway is the last time I saw ‘em steady-like because the turns get tighter after that.”

Cole-Wilson: “Where did the deputies take over?”

Rafanan: “We were in close pursuit until just before we got to the old weigh-station, then an SUV behind us, and another parked there, took over.”

Cole-Wilson: “But isn’t it true my client denied any firearms were involved?”

Rafanan: “Yes, Ma’am.”

Cole-Wilson: “And the evidence was only six pounds?”

Rafanan: “Yes, and I thought it strange because it’s a long distance to travel for only that much. But it’s been done in the past.”

Cole-Wilson: “You seized a cell phone from my client?”

Rafanan: “Yes, Ma’am.”

Cole-Wilson: “Has it been searched?”

Rafanan: “I have no idea, Ma’am.”

Cole-Wilson: “ Nothing further.”

Mr. Washington’s private lawyer, Mark Kalina of Fort Bragg: “Officer Rafanan, how many members of the SWAT team were deployed on this chase?”

Rafanan: “Actually, we had very low attendance on this one. Only four or five of us showed up.”

Kalina: “How many vehicles were involved?”

Rafanan: “Only one until we got to the old scales.”

Kalina: “Did you look at the marijuana?”

Rafanan: “Yes.”

Kalina: “It was in vacuum-sealed turkey bags?”

Rafanan: “Correct.”

Kalina: “And some had been punctured.”

Rafanan: “Correct. They had the strain noted on the bags, too, but I don’t recall what it was called.”

Kalina: “When you first identified the driver of this red Toyota, how far were you away?”

Rafanan: “I was nose-to-nose with it.”

Kalina: “So, 20 feet?”

Rafanan: “Roughly, yes.”

Kalina: “You said he crossed the center divider?”

Rafanan: “Yes..”

Kalina: “How many times?”

Rafanan: “Specifically, I couldn’t tell you.”

Kalina: “And this was in somewhat heavy traffic?”

Rafanan: “It was pretty heavy, yes.”

Kalina: “And there’s no video camera in your vehicle?”

Rafanan: “No.”

Kalina: “None whatsoever?”

Rafanan: “No.”

Kalina: “The logging road and driveway is where they turned off?”

Rafanan: “Yes.”

Kalina: “So you and Officer Melendez got out behind your doors?”

Rafanan: “Yes.”

Kalina: “And you were wearing Kevlar vests?”

Rafanan: “Yes.”

Kalina: “So it’s essentially a combat uniform?”

Rafanan: “It’s our Special Threat ODs. Mine has digital camo.”

Kalina: “So you were shouting at the occupants?”

Rafanan: “Yes.”

Kalina: “And pointing weapons at them?”

Rafanan: “Yes.”

Kalina: “Handguns or rifles?”

Rafanan; “AR-15 rifles.”

Kalina: “Any response?”

Rafanan: “No.”

Kalina: “What did you say?”

Rafanan: “Stop! Get out of the vehicle! Keep your hands up!”

Kalina: “Still no response?”

Rafanan: “They accelerated and ducked.”

Kalina: “Who ducked?”

Rafanan: “All three of ‘em.”

Kalina: “Then you continued your pursuit to Willits?”

Rafanan: “Yes.”

Kalina: “But you never saw anything ejected from the vehicle?”

Rafanan: “No.”

Kalina: “Anyone else see anything ejected?”

Rafanan: “Not to my knowledge.”

Kalina: “And Mr. Williams said he took a couple of extra pounds?”

Rafanan: “Yes.”

Kalina: “Did you ask if he paid for it?”

Rafanan: “No.”

Kalina: “The car was a rental?”

Rafanan: “Yes.”

Kalina: “You spoke with a guy named Igor from LA?”

Rafanan: “Yes.”

Kalina: “But wasn’t it rented to a Jason Webb?”

Rafanan: “No, actually, Mr. Williams said something about that. He said Igor had called about a report on a stolen vehicle that had been found in a Willits tow-yard, and he wanted to know how he could get it back.”

Kalina: “Any ammunition found?”

Rafanan: “No.”

Kalina: “Any holsters, gun cases, anything like that?”

Rafanan: “I didn’t find any, no.”

Kalina: “Nothing further.”

The prelim wasn’t over but the day was coming to a close and other prisoners were in the dock awaiting their turn before the judge, so a waiver was taken, the defendants ushered out, and a date set to continue proceedings.

I followed Corporal Rafanan to get some spellings and missed the date for the continuance, but it will be on the calendar in a few days.

It was one of those great pot heists I thought we’d all seen the last of since legalization, and I was sure proud of these Chicago guys for proving that there’s still some excitement to be had on vacation in Mendoland!

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