A year and a half ago, a cannabis cultivator shot another on a remote grow east of Covelo. Out of the eyes of the public, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office identified a suspect, Jose Javier Salazar Cruz, and issued a warrant for attempted murder. In October 2022, the long arm of the law caught up with him in New Mexico. Now, 18 months after the crime, the suspected shooter is in custody awaiting trial behind the bars of the Mendocino County Jail
On the evening of July 7, 2021, a Toyota pick-up sped towards the Black Butte store, one of the last vestiges of civilization before crossing the western edge of the Mendocino National Forest.
The store’s owner, Thomas Ochsner, heard the vehicle come to a stop out front and stepped outside to investigate.
The truck was a Toyota Tacoma, new, blue in color, and appeared to be punctured by a bullet hole. Two Spanish-speaking men were inside. The passenger had a t-shirt wrapped around his shoulder that Ochsner said was “soaked in blood.”
Investigators with the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office would later learn the two men worked on a cannabis farm approximately 12 miles south of the Black Butte Store. On the afternoon of July 7, the pair arrived at the farm when a fellow cultivator opened fire with a small caliber pistol.
The two men fled the area in a Toyota Tacoma and made it to the Black Butte Store. It was there that medics found the injured man had suffered one gunshot wound, and they had him airlifted to an out-of-area hospital where he later recovered.
In the days following the shooting, MCSO’s detectives, patrol units, Marijuana Enforcement Team, and Major Crimes Task Force converged on the 49000 block of Timberridge Trail, the location of the cannabis farm where the crime allegedly occurred. Investigators located over 2,900 cannabis plants in non-permitted structures and greenhouses.
By December 2021, MCSO detectives identified the suspected shooter as Jose Javier Salazar Cruz. An arrest warrant was issued and local law enforcement waited for Cruz to brush shoulders with Johnny Law.
Their patience paid off.
In October 2022, Cruz was arrested over 1,200 miles southeast of Mendocino County in Luna County, New Mexico.
18 months after allegedly firing upon fellow cannabis cultivators in the rugged hills east of Round Valley, Cruz now sits in the Mendocino County jail where he awaits trial for his crime.
A criminal complaint filed by the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office has charged Cruz with the attempted murder of Feliciano Reyez Vizcarra. He faces a special allegation due to his use of a firearm.
Sheriff Matt Kendall explained that oftentimes it might seem like “nothing is happening on a case,” but, out of the eye of the public, law enforcement is continuing casework such as interviews and forensics. “We have to be careful what we’re talking about. While you’re reporting to the citizens of Mendocino County, the suspects could be reading what you’re reporting, too.”
Sheriff Kendall explained when a suspect is unaware law enforcement is on their tail, they will continue their day-to-day behaviors. “If people don’t think we’re looking for them, they’ll pop up sooner or later.”
Amen to that Sheriff Kendall. But a smart criminal is always aware that Johnny Law is watching. In a digital world. That’s why the smartest thing to do is not be a criminal. I like my rights the way they are. Fully intact. A principle I’ve always lived by. I will always keep it that way. With my voting and gun rights intact. Among other things.