by Bruce McEwen, November 1, 2017
We often hear it said that Mendocino County is this wondrous place where each day starts anew and you can be whoever you say you are. All you need is a little hocus-pocus, abracadabra, and presto there you are!
Certain strains of cannabis sativa can add some awesome touches to the fantasy. So when this old guy with a fabulous head of hair like Gandalf in the Peter Jackson movie Lord of the Rings said that he really was Gandalf – not only Gandalf but, get this, Bear Gandalf Orion Dragonheart – well, who would doubt it?
Certainly not the impressionable young woman who became Gandalf’s lead consort, his erstwhile mistress, her Ladyship of the Growsite, the one he was recently charged with assaulting, though she must by now be fairly let down, sobered-up, and disillusioned as to Gandalf’s true nature, if not his real name and former identity.
Bear Gandalf Orion Dragonheart turned out to be plain old Paul Turner, an aging thug out of Arizona with a criminal record that included armed robbery plea-bargained down to first-degree burglary and kidnapping. When this was all revealed in open court recently, it must have seemed like cruel fate, unkind kismet, sour luck and bad karma had all conspired to make a banal mockery of Turner’s J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy.
Turner’s latest misfortune came in the form of a COMMET (County of Mendocino Marijuaa Eradication Team) raid on his Bell Springs Road grow site in the golden hills above Laytonville. More than 600 of Turner-Gandalf’s prime pot plants were fed into the chipper and charges by Fish & Wildlife, with F&W wardens adding illegal stream diversion and pollution to the list of charges. The discovery by Deputy Jeff Andrade of a waterproof Pelican Box™ hidden in the branches of a manzanita tree, wherein Turner, a convicted felon, had stashed his bullets for a handgun and rifle (neither of which were recovered) added to Gandalf’s bad day.
The result was that the next time Gandalf Dragonheart, aka Paul Turner came to court, Deputy Andrade cuffed him and placed him under arrest, and his lawyers had to call his bail bondsman to come over to the courthouse so more money could be added to his bail bond.
Now the unfortunate fellow is facing more than 30 years in the slammer. He already had two strikes with the first-degree burg and kidnapping; and a holding order on the assault with a deadly weapon not a gun (a car) when he allegedly tried to stop his lady companion from leaving. So this will make three strikes if he’s found guilty at trial, and the felon in possession of ammo along with a F&W Code felony for diversion and pollution will all add up to the end of Gandalf’s capers for the foreseeable future, if not the rest of his days.
Here’s how the prelim went.
Long-time Deputy DA Elizabeth Norman called Warden Hemphill, a rookie warden, less than a year in the service, who told how he’d discovered that a culvert had been installed in a streambed, along with a rusty old wire pot plant cage and other litter. Hemphill, citing Fish & Wildlife codes that these violation of the natural order were crimes. He testified that he’d used his GPS to determine the location of Gandalf’s parcel. He then called in to an environmental scientist at the Fort Bragg Fish & Wildlife office, and determined that the culvert installation had not been permitted, and was therefore another violation. He found a rudimentary spring box constructed to divert water (when there was a flow, which there wasn’t any at the time of the raid in September) to holding tanks for the grow operation.
One of Mr. Dragonheart/Turner’s lawyers, William Conwell, objected to the means by which the warden had gone through to see if the culvert hadn’t been permitted by the previous property owner, and Judge Ann Moorman said she’d take the objection under submission, and the defense team of Mr. Conwell and Michael Shambrook could brief it for her honor to consider.
Ms. Norman then called Deputy Jeffrey Andrade.
Deputy Andrade heard Warden Don Powers (over the radio) encounter Mr. Dragonheart, and as the warden approached Gandalf residence, he said, “There he goes, he was drinking a cup of coffee on the porch and took off running around the house when he saw me.”
Norman: “Did you find anything unusual in the residence?”
Andrade: “Yes – at least, I thought it unusual.”
Norman: “And what was that?”
Andrade: “A hand grenade.”
Norman: “A hand grenade?
Andrade: “Yes, a hand grenade?”
Norman: “What does it do?”
Andrade: “That I don’t know, but it was a silver, pineapple style hand grenade.”
Andrade also found plastic tubs of marijuana, some processed, some not. He went outside where he found, a short distance from the house, a cot with a tent shelter over it, and there he found a laptop computer, a cell phone, and a letter from Ms. Norman herself to Mr. Dragonheart’s lawyer, Michael Shambrook. Then, leaving the cot area, Andrade had the good fortune to spot a Pelican box in a tree; the box contained rifle and handgun ammunition, which Dragonheart, a convicted felon, was proscribed from having in his possession.
Norman: “Anything else?”
Andrade: “Yes, another grenade.”
Norman: “Another one?”
Andrade: “Yes, just like the first, a chrome or silver-colored pineapple style grenade.”
Andrade then went on to the various pot gardens, and there were ten of them all-in-all. The first had 43 plants, all four to six feet tall, the second garden had six plants three to five feet tall, hand watered; the third had 12 plants, three to five feet tall, hand watered; Number Four had 104 plants, in a green house, all of them three-to-five feet tall, watered by a drip-system; Number Five had 36 plants two to four feet tall, all watered by hand; Number Six had 89 plants four to six feet tall, watered by a drip system; Number Seven had 116 plants, four to six feet tall, watered by drip system; Number Eight had 94 plants mostly four to six feet tall, but there were also some starters, and they were watered by hand and also a drip system; Number Nine had 79 plants, four to six feet tall, watered by drip system; Number Ten had 76 plants four to six feet tall hand watered and drip system: For a total of 684 plants.
The water line came from the storage tanks that Warden Hemphill had determined was fed by the spring box in the streambed and accounted for the diversion, supplying water for all ten of the pot gardens.
You can’t fault Gandalf for lack of enterprise.
On cross, Mr. Conwell wanted to know the distance from the house to the cot where the computer and cell phone were found along with Mr. Dragonheart’s court documents and the letter from Ms. Norman.
Deputy Andrade estimated the distance from house to cot at less than a hundred yards.
Conwell: “And how far was it from the cot to the tree where the Pelican Box was found?”
Andrade: “About 25 yards.”
Conwell: “Did you follow the pipe from the holding tank to the garden area?”
Andrade: “I did.”
Conwell: “What type of ammunition did you find?”
Andrade: “Some of it was for a rifle and some for a handgun?”
Conwell: “Did you check to see what caliber it was?”
Andrade: “I did not.”
Conwell: “Would if be fair to say that the distance from the house to the cot was more like 125 yards?”
Andrade: “It wasn’t that far.”
Conwell: “Was the residence visible from the cot?”
Andrade: “That depends. There was lots of vegetation around, manzanita mostly, in between the residence and the cot.”
Conwell: “You say you found male clothing in the residence?
Conwell: “Did you notice what size the clothing was?”
Andrade: “If you mean did I try in on, no, I did not.”
Conwell: “Did you say it was 10 yards from the cot to the tree where you found the Pelican Box?”
Andrade: “It was more like 35 yards, and uphill. I got lucky and just happened to look up and see it in the tree.”
Conwell: “Did you find any ammunition in the residence?”
Conwell: “Did you find any empty shell casings laying around?”
Andrade: “I didn’t look for any.”
Conwell: “As for the water tank, you don’t personally know how it got filled, do you?”
Andrade: “No, I do not.”
Conwell: “Nothing further.”
Deputy DA Norman: “As to Count Two [felon in possession of ammunition], the grenade in the residence connects the ammunition in the Pelican Box by means of the other grenade found in the box — he’s taking great care to keep the ammunition away from the residence because he’s a convicted felon out of Arizona, and knows he isn’t supposed to have it.”
Conwell: “There were no guns found in the house and as to the replica grenades, there’s no evidence my client had access to that box.”
Judge Moorman: “She doesn’t have to prove actual access, only proximity, which I think she has. The evidence has been clearly established to me. Fleeing can be construed as guilt and he fled when he saw Warden Powers. And it’s pretty clear at least one tank was watering the gardens, so I’m completely satisfied he was engaged in cultivating marijuana. And grenades are just not that common. For one to be on the kitchen table and another in the Pelican Box hidden in a tree close to the residence, and then there’s a cot near the tree with Mr. Dragonheart’s indicia so hmmm… Mr. Dragonheart is keeping his computer away from the residence and storing ammunition away as from it as well. And you don’t need a gun to go with it, he’s a prohibited person in possession of it. As to the Fish & Wildlife Code violations, putting in a culvert is a clear violation of 1602 and diverting water from a tributary to the storage tanks has been sufficiently established. The Environmental scientist, a Ms. Angela Liberburg – Warden Hemphill spoke to her about the permits and identifies it by parcel number – but, as I said, I’ll give you a chance to brief that.”
The final word isn’t in yet, but already the lawyers are discussing a plea bargain that would reduce Mr. Dragonheart’s exposure to spending the rest of his days in the grim old dungeon part of Dungeons & Dragons, now that he’s already lived out the fun part of the fantasy.