40,000 Watt Grow House Brings Child Endangerment Charge – April 20, 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Police removed the pot plants and cultivation equipment from the garage at 645 California Avenue, revealing the complex, intertwined and dangerous homebrew wiring and ducting. The numerous building code violations led to a power cutoff. KLH | Eye

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

CALIFORNIA AVENUE – Another big, blatant grow house on California Avenue was taken offline last week, this one coincidentally just up the street from a similar big-time bust of just a few weeks back.

The raid netted the usual haul of plants, processed pot, lights, ballasts, fans and a couple of suspects, but also included a few unusual wrinkles – a child endangerment charge against one of the accused and a mobile processing facility in the backyard which was hauled away and impounded.

On Wednesday, April 13, in response to neighbor complaints, officers from the Arcata Police Department’s Special Services Unit, assisted by the Humboldt County Drug Task Force and the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office served two search warrants on residences where illegal marijuana cultivation operations were suspected to be taking place.

Korwyn Jensen

Julie Robbins

The first search warrant was served at a residence at 645 California Avenue. Officers discovered a large- scale indoor marijuana cultivation operation both inside and underneath the home. Nearly 1,500 marijuana plants and more than 15 pounds of processed marijuana along with an array of cultivation equipment – including 28 1,000- and 1,500-watt grow lights – and nearly $3,000 in cash was seized.

Julie Robbins, 29, of Arcata, was arrested and booked on charges of possession of marijuana for sale, operating a house for the manufacture of drugs, cultivation of marijuana and child endangerment.

Korwyn Jensen, 32, of Garberville, was arrested and booked on charges of possession of marijuana for sale, operating a house for the manufacture of drugs and cultivation of marijuana.

APD officers secure some of the California Avenue house's growing equipment – lights, hoods, fans filers and green lighting ballasts – on a trailer to be taken away for evidence. The house sported 28 1,000- and 1,500-watt grow lights. Arcata's Prop 215 ordinance allows 1,200 watts of grow lighting for medical cannabis cultivation. KLH | Eye

The second search warrant was served at a residence at 2185 Second Road in McKinleyville, a house owned by William L. Rice and Judith L. Mitchell-Rice of Eureka. The residence was associated with the Arcata home.

A small marijuana growing operation was discovered at the McKinleyville residence as well. Nearly seven pounds of processed marijuana along with additional cultivation equipment was seized. No arrests were made at that location.

City of Arcata building inspectors discovered numerous building code violations at the California Avenue location, necessitating the immediate disconnection of electrical service.

A Sheriff's Office truck hauls away the 18-foot trailer used for cannabis processing which had been in the backyard.

The California Avenue house is owned by  Susan E. Shores of Palo Alto. APD Chief Tom Chapman said that the crawlspace of the home had been heavily modified to accommodate a grow, with approximately 40,000 watts of unsafe lighting and wiring in constant use underneath the house in which two children lived. No permits had been issued for the elaborate tangle of wiring and ducts servicing the growing areas.

“The electrical situation in this house is one of the worst jobs that we have seen in terms of unsafe, exposed wiring,” Chapman said.

“It was appalling to see a four- and seven-year-old living in this situation, that only seemed like a matter of time before something happened,” Chapman said.

On top of that “practically the entire home” had been utilized for cannabis production to some degree. Not even living spaces were cannabis-free. “There were bongs on the table where the kids were eating,” he said.

The sketchy electrical lashups and immersive drug-production environment added up to APD’s first child endangerment charge for a cannabis growing suspect. “This is the first case that we have done grow house-wise where we encountered small children,” Chapman said. “To arrest, we have to have probable cause that these kids were in danger. Conditions were bad enough that we felt it warranted this particular charge.”

The District Attorney’s Office will make the final decision on charges against the two suspects.

Out back of the home, a windowless, 18-foot cargo trailer was in use as a cannabis drying facility. It was towed away by the HCSO and impounded. To cart off the huge inventory of grow equipment, APD filled up the Park Ranger truck, a van and a flatbed trailer.

As officers packed up grow lights, ballasts and fans, area residents gathered across the street and gave the officers the thumbs-up sign and called out, “Thank you!” One neighbor said the house’s garage door hadn’t been open in five years.

Det. Sgt. Todd Dokweiler said other suspected grow houses are under investigation, with more search warrants likely to be served soon.


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