LAST OCTOBER, Acting Ag Commissioner Diane Curry told the Board of Supervisors that as far as she knew “only three” of the 734 pot cultivation applicants up to that point had suffered Fish & Wildlife raids — “which is not terrible,” she added.
NOT UNLESS they create a significant liability for Mendocino County, especially if Mendo had approved (or perhaps at least not denied) the permit or was somehow involved in initiating the raid.
According to press reports of the August 10 Fish & Wildlife raid, wardens had 61-year old Mr. Chris Gurr in cuffs standing for hours in the sun as they cut something like 60 of his plants down, an added bit of sadism by the alleged guardians of wild things. Gurr said he had his paperwork in order or pending and showed it to the officers on hand, but it didn’t matter. Wardens also took Gurr’s paperwork.
A Fish and Wildlife spokesman later said the property was raided because they suspected a well was diverting water from a nearby creek, a common practice by grape growers, but a raidable offense for pot growers. Fish & Wildlife Department Lt. Chris Stoots said the agency’s Watershed Enforcement Program — tasked to investigate, enforce and remediate environmental damage from cannabis cultivation on private land — launched the investigation. Stoots said they had to act quickly and in force “when misdemeanors or felonies are committed in the presence of an officer. … The legal status of it or the political opinion of it has nothing to do with the burden people have to (protect) the environment and the fact that they’re obligated to follow environmental laws.”
At that time back in August Curry said the property owners targeted during the Aug. 10 raid were working with county staff to address the potential water source issue and several others, such as greenhouse design. (Improper greenhouse design is not yet a felony as far as we know.) The owners seemed to “want to do whatever needs to be done to be in compliance,” Curry said.
“We had done our site inspection and things looked good,” Curry added, noting the county had also issued a May 4 document stating such. Curry notified Fish and Wildlife several weeks earlier about the water source question as standard practice and was surprised the agency had raided Mr. Gurr without contacting her department first. “I’m really concerned,” Curry said. “We want to get people doing the right thing, and if we don’t have support from all these agencies we’re just helping to keep people in the black market and creating all the things people don’t want like health and safety issues and environmental crimes.”
At the October 3, Board meeting, almost two months later, Curry said she spoke to Fish & Wildlife's boss who told her that “he understood we had denied the application, but that’s not true.” The raid was conducted based on an allegation of illegal water diversion, Curry said, and “staff was out there and working with them. It was another surprise as to why that applicant was targeted.”
SEVERAL BOARD MEMBERS and a number of pot growers in the Board chambers bemoaned the raid and wondered why F&W wouldn’t at least check with Mendo to verify the permit application status. Apparently, after an earlier raid, the Board had thought that F&W had promised to check with Mendo before any further raids.
CODE ENFORCEMENT CHIEF, Trent Taylor, said that as far as he knew Fish & Wildlife raids are based on calls to the state’s anonymous Cal-Tip line, so that growers with annoyed neighbors, whatever their permit status, are more likely to be raided than totally illegal outback growers who are far from any neighbors.
WHICH BRINGS US TO: A Notice of Claim against the County of Mendocino filed last week by an SF attorney for Chris Gurr and Ann Marie Borges, at an address on Boonville Road outside Ukiah. Gurr claims that “False or improper claims and statements made by Mendocino County Sheriff's Department employee Sue Anzilotti, her associates, and other currently unknown Mendocino County officers and employees which led to execution of search warrant identified as number [redacted] Superior Court of California, County of Mendocino, August 9, 2017 at 9:30 AM. This search resulted in a raid and seizure operations carried out by California Fish and wildlife agents and employees on August 10, 2017. The warrant was issued for the premises at the claimant address.”
Gurr cites damages of “Unlawful seizure and/or destruction of entire, nearly mature crop of medicinal grade cannabis plants growing on the claimants’ property; damage to agricultural infrastructure and materials; cost of labor and materials to grow the plants; loss of reputation and standing in the Mendocino community; emotional distress.”
The amount claimed is “in excess of $10,000.”
SO, according to the claim, a Sheriff’s department employee named Sue Anzilotti is somehow responsible for an illegal Fish & Wildlife raid, and that makes the County and top officials responsible? The plot thus thickens. We expect the claim to be denied without comment at next Tuesday's board meeting. And later this year we may know more about Mendo's alleged involvement when the claim matures into a lawsuit in Mendocino County courts.
WE HAVE NOT seen a claim against State Fish & Wildlife, so far, but we assume one is pending.