Sunday, May 28, 2023

Mendocino County District Attorney Attributes Rise in Violent Crime to Black Market Cannabis Industry


During a budgetary presentation to the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday, June 9, District Attorney David Eyster described a 10% rise in violent felonies from 2019 to 2020. 3rd District Supervisor John Haschak asked whether that rise was related to the cannabis industry, legal or illegal, and DA Eyster responded, “The violence we’re experiencing, in most cases, is related to the black market cultivation and marketing of cannabis.”

DA Eyster then recounted two specific crimes from the last year that he said were emblematic of the violence associated with the black market cannabis industry. 

Christopher Wayne Gamble, the Willits Man who stands accused of double homicide on a cannabis growing operation [Picture from the MCSO Booking Logs]

First, DA Eyster outlined the recent double murder that occurred on at a Willits cannabis grow. Christopher Wayne Gamble stands accused of the murder of two men, Ulises Andrade Ayala and Anwar Ayala, in a crime that Eyster referred to as “heinous.” According to a criminal complaint issued by the Mendocino County DA, Gamble also is accused of animal abuse involving hurting or killing chickens.

Tactical gear and military-grade weapons used during last September’s robbery and kidnapping. [Picture provided by the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office]

The second crime that DA Eyster referred to was when three out-of-area men, outfitted in tactical gear and military-style weapons, attempted to “impersonate police officers and rip off people that were bringing money up here to buy marijuana, whether it be legal or illegal.”

DA Eyster made room to say that the totality of the 10% rise cannot be attributed to the cannabis black market, but said: “a large number of that is attached to the illegal black market.”

Sheriff Matt Kendall echoed several of DA Eyster’s sentiments in a late September statement to Mendocino County residents where he said that the violence associated with the black market cannabis industry “has become too much for our county to carry. Now is the time to stop pretending the illegal marijuana trade is a good thing.” 

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The three men who stand accused of Last September’s robbery and kidnapping while outfitted in tactical gear [Left to Right, Nathan Vargas, Roy Ha, Jesus Vargas]

In his statement, Sheriff Matt Kendall also described September’s robbery and kidnapping committed by the three out-of-town men outfitted with “military-grade weapons, and body armor.”

Sheriff Kendall, in this statement, also cited reports of illegal cannabis growers intimidating firefighters during last year’s August Complex fires as a cause for concern. Firefighters reported that essential water pumps were stolen and lasers were shone on them as they worked to extinguish last year’s massive fire.

Michael Katz, the executive director of the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance, said “We appreciate and share the DA’s concern for the egregious environmental and criminal activities that are transpiring in our county around unlicensed cannabis.” 

Katz explained that the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance “has consistently advocated for more resources for the Sheriff’s office, PBS [Planning and Building Services], and the Cannabis Program to support their important efforts.”

Katz does not see these enforcement efforts as antagonistic towards legal cannabis cultivators. He said, “The Sheriff has repeatedly stated that the issues he is seeing with regards to dangerous, illegal behaviors are not coming from the licensed cannabis operators in the county.”

Katz added, “We don’t want those licensed operators who have been doing their best to stay compliant in an ever-changing regulatory system to be falsely demonized because of the bad actions of others who have no intention of operating compliantly.”

Addressing some of the particulars of prosecuting cannabis crimes, DA Eyster provided water theft as an example of weak laws disincentivizing his office from pursuing culprits. In the past, DA Eyster explained, “We have tried to take criminal enforcement against water theft” but “criminal penalties at the state level are so low there is literally no bang for the buck.” He suggested the county “join a lobbying effort in Sacramento” to “seek more hefty punishment for people stealing water.” 

DA Eyster explained that despite efforts to transition cannabis cultivators into the legal market, “the black market is still strong and vibrant in Mendocino County.” He described reviewing five search warrants recently associated with “significant marijuana operations that were not licensed by the county or the state.” He characterized the cannabis grows as “big enough that you just don’t understand how someone can set these up and think it’d be okay.”

Speaking to how the county can bolster cannabis enforcement efforts, DA Eyster advocated for further funding of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife because “they don’t have enough people to cover all the canyons and waterways.” He also supported further funding the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office in their enforcement efforts.”

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  1. I agree with knocking out these mega grows that can put a big hurt on the environment and our waterways but I’d like to see some more talk about the tweekers and bums that are taking over our county. It’s out of control and my family no longer feels safe doing simple tasks around town. The simple slap on the wrist is not fuc#ing working.

  2. This sad excuse for “enforcement” is so blatantly motivated by media arousal for “funding.” The grows have and always will be here. Without a constant federal aid in man power, the MILLIONS of pounds of cannabis that is produced in this region will never be extinguished. The largest contributor to our local economy is cannabis, legal or NOT. Every single dollar made in this industry goes directly back into our system, no matter how many times its been taxxed. “Oh but what the money that ~leaves~ our borders huh?” Sure, please eradicate the literal illegals that grow. Yet we see little to no enforcement efforts targeting cartel grows. They know where they are (cov-), our locals know where they are (-elo), with the most absurd grows flying free. But sure, let’s demonize and punish the small guys, our locals, our neighbors, the smallest of the bunch. Fuck1ng trimming the lawn with nail clippers, embarrassing.

  3. I thought criminology was supposed to be a science, Dave? And yet, we see no hard numbers, no peer reviewed studies, just two extreme cases that can probably be attributed to the mentality of the suspects than anything else. (Animal abuser and a couple of cold hard cartel killers.) I’m calling bullshit, Dave. Show us all the numbers, and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that unpermitted farmers are the primary cause. I’ll take my answer off-air. 😃🤷🏻‍♂️ 🤦🏻‍♂️

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Matt LaFever
Matt LaFeverhttps://mendofever.com/
I like to think of myself as a reporter for the Average Joe. Journalism has become a craft defined largely by city dwellers on America's coasts. It’s time to take it back. I have been an Emerald Triangle resident since 2006 and this is year ten in Mendocino County. Please, email me at matthewplafever@gmail.com if you know a story that needs to be told.

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