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Da Declares Shooting Of Pot Growers Justified

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Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey stood among an array of charts,
maps and outlawed semi-automatic weapons Tuesday and said the shooting of
two marijuana garden tenders during a raid Sept. 19 was justified and done
in self-defense.

He said an investigation just completed by a special Shooting Protocol
Team, constituted by members of every law enforcement agency in the county,
absolves the sheriff's office of any criminal liability in the incident.

Ramsey said the findings of the team, including allegations that one of the
dead men was not an intended target, are supported by statements from the
only suspect who survived the raid.

Killed by sheriff's deputies in an early morning raid near Feather Falls
were Jose-Guadalupe Castaneda Casillas, 22, and Martin Cardenas Baez, 40,
both residents of Mexico.

A third man, Valentine-Guizar Mora, 34, also a Mexican national, was taken
into custody unharmed. He was arraigned in Butte County Superior Court last
week on charges that could bring a term of up to four years in state prison.

Ramsey announced Tuesday, however, that charges against Mora will be
dismissed in this county and he'll be handed over to federal authorities
next week.

Federal penalties for the same crimes could draw a 10 to 20 year sentence
or more, Ramsey said. Mora is expected to be held in Sacramento and face
charges there in a federal court.

By all accounts, Baez appeared to be in charge of the huge boomerang-shaped
garden, which yielded more than 11,000 mature plants with a street value of
about $22 million.

He leveled a fully-loaded AK-47 semi-automatic assault rifle at deputies
Jason Dodd, Todd Booth and Neil Simpson as they surprised him, Casillas and
Mora on a trail in the garden area. One of the deputies - Ramsey wasn't
sure which - testified that the look on Baez' face went from "flight to
fight" in an instant and he fully expected to see flashes from the muzzle
if he didn't fire first.

Between them the deputies fired 17 rounds at Baez, hitting him 11 times,
mostly in the waist and lower torso area.

Butte County Sheriff Perry Reniff said the deputies fired on the suspect
closest to the area of the weapon, as they are trained to do.

Casillas, who was found with a loaded .38 caliber "special" in his pocket,
allegedly tried to run from the area and passed behind Baez. Baez allegedly
twisted away from the deputies and ducked as they fired. Two of the bullets
intended for him struck Casillas in the chest.

The suspects failed to obey a warning shouted by deputy Jim Dimmitt as he
and the three other deputies stepped onto the trail behind them.

The deputies said they heard the men coming toward them, speaking in
Spanish, so Dimmitt first issued a warning in that language, then in English.

Ramsey repeated the warning for media representatives assembled at the
sheriff's office Tuesday: "Police! Don't move! Put your hands up!"

Dimmitt was close enough to Mora to take him to the ground with a move
known as a leg sweep. Dimmitt testified that Mora carried an AK-47 slung
over his shoulder, but was unable to get it into a firing position because
he was also carrying a sleeping bag and a bag of dirty clothes.

"That probably saved his life, or the life of an officer," Ramsey said.

When the shooting was over, deputies said they were surprised to see
Casillas laying on the ground and ordered him to show his hands. It wasn't
until they rolled him over and noticed two entry wounds that they realized
he'd been hit.

Reniff said members of a Special Enforcement Unit had the garden under
surveillance since Aug. 6, when an aerial patrol first spotted it below
Lumpkin Road. Subsequent ground surveillance revealed that the grow was
guarded by armed men.

He said 39 law enforcement officers from nearly a dozen agencies
participated in the raid Sept. 19. A high risk entry into the garden was
expected, so a team from the sheriff's Critical Incident Response Team was

Still, according to Reniff, the plan was to surprise the growers in their
base camp, possibly before they even awoke, and avoid a confrontation.

"When officers found the camp empty, they thought they had been burned",
Ramsey said.

At the direction of Dimmitt, the men broke up into two teams to search the
vast grow area. Dimmitt said he and the three deputies who fired, crouched
in tall marijuana plants as the suspects walked toward them. At one point,
Dimmitt said, Mora came within three feet of him, but didn't see him.

Mora has reportedly waived his Miranda rights and spoken openly to
authorities about his involvement with the pot garden.

Consistent with the leadership role Baez is believed to have, Mora said the
men weren't armed until Baez told them local "garden pirates" had taken 60
plants from the grow. Mora said Baez then retrieved a bag containing the
weapons and handed them out.

Mora said he was recruited by Casillas while working at a restaurant in the
Los Angeles area and told he would earn $250 per day. Mora referred to
Casillas as his "friend" and called him "Lupe."

It's unclear if the men were paid on a regular basis, or promised a lump
sum at the end of the marijuana harvest.

Reniff said the Mexican marijuana cartels working in Northern California
have ties to Los Angeles and San Jose. He said many areas of the north
state provide the perfect climate, elevation and water sources for growing
marijuana. He also blamed increased activity on the fact that tighter
security at the Mexico-U.S. Border has decreased opportunities in Mexico
for more traditional drug trafficking.

Mora said he had only been working the grow for eight days when the raid
occurred. Up to three other men had been spotted working the garden, but
authorities believe they were scared off by aerial surveillance weeks
before the raid.

Reniff said the timing of the raid was partly due to the start of deer
hunting season last weekend, but noted that it would have occurred regardless.

"We needed to clear that camp," he said.

Plants found in the garden were mature, but not of the highest quality.
Authorities believe the garden was too large to be effectively tended by
just three men.

Pubdate: Wed, 01 Oct 2003
Source: Oroville Mercury-Register (CA)
Webpage: http://www2.orovillemr.com/articles/2003/10/01/news/news1.txt
Contact <mailto:biano@cncnet.com>biano@cncnet.com
Website: <Oroville Mercury Register: Breaking News, Sports, Business, Entertainment & Oroville News>Oroville Mercury Register: Breaking News, Sports, Business, Entertainment & Oroville News
Address: P.O. Box 651, Oroville, CA 95965-0651
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Copyright: 2003 Oroville Mercury Register
Author: Greg Welter, MediaNews Group