Details emerge on mysterious ‘Southern Sweep’ action – January 27, 2010

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Daniel Mintz

Eye Correspondent

HUMBOLDT – About 18 months after the federal drug enforcement operation that was said to have yielded the confiscation of 10,000 marijuana plants, five arrests have been made.

But so far, the only follow-up information released on the controversial enforcement action known as Operation Southern Sweep has been the names of those arrested.

Donovan Henry, Nathaniel Pollette, Clark Wilkinson and Graeson Prescott were arrested in Whitethorn, Alderpoint, Phillipsville and Shelter Cove respectively. Robert Juan was arrested in Eureka.

In June 2008, convoys of state and federal drug enforcement agents, 450 of them, converged on the county. A rugged 2,000-acre Southern Humboldt area known as Buddhaville was the focus of the operation and agents searched numerous homes linked to it. One home in Arcata was raided and a small grow located.

According to a press release at the time, Southern Sweep yielded confiscation of 10,000 marijuana plants, 30 guns, $160,000 in cash and one vehicle.

Homes and buildings in Shelter Cove, Whitethorn, Ettersburg, Redway, Garberville, Miranda, Phillipsville, Arcata and McKinleyville were searched. The federal agencies involved included the IRS and U.S. Postal Service, and drug task force units from multiple counties, including Humboldt, assisted the operation.

It targeted what was described in the press release as a profit-mongering drug trafficking ring, one that promoted a culture of violence.

But in the wake of Southern Sweep, there was a community debate on what was happening at Buddhaville. Southern Sweep re-exposed the fear, resentment and anger held by county residents against police, particularly those from outside, but also against marijuana growers – particularly those from outside, with shallow roots in the county, and those who are viewed as greedy.

While nearby residents said that Buddhaville had obvious signs of a big grow operation, there was also some doubt about how many of the people living there were actually collaborating.

But at the time, Lt. George Cavinta of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department backed up the state and federal agents’ assertions that medical marijuana growers were not swept up in Southern Sweep. “They were not targeting 215 patients by any means,” Cavinta had said of the state and federal agents.

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