Armed combat erupted in Mendocino County pot gardens Wednesday morning when deputies shot and killed a suspect wielding an assault rifle while in a nearby garden drug enforcement agents engaged in a shootout with growers.
It was the second deadly marijuana-patch shooting in the county by a deputy in three weeks and the fourth killing by law enforcement officers on the North Coast this summer.
"It's getting violent out there," said Mendocino County Sheriff's Capt. Kurt Smallcomb.
Both shootings Wednesday were connected with a multi-agency, 60-officer operation on private property between Laytonville and Branscomb in northern Mendocino County, officials said.
The officers were serving a search warrant on the remote, wooded property following a month-long investigation into the large-scale marijuana operation, believed to be connected with organized crime, said Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman.
The fatal shooting occurred at about 7:45 a.m. as five Mendocino County sheriff's deputies were investigating one of the pot gardens. The suspect, brandishing an assault weapon, was shot by three of the officers, Allman said. The suspect, who had not been identified as of Wednesday night, was pronounced dead at the scene. It was unclear Wednesday whether he fired his weapon, Allman said.
Minutes after the fatal shooting, a team of officers in another pot garden on the property were fired upon by four armed men, Allman said. They returned fire and the suspects fled into the woods, he said.
No officers were injured. The conditions of the suspects, who fled, are unknown, Allman said.
The five deputies present during the fatal shooting have been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by the state Department of Justice and Mendocino County District Attorney's Office, he said.
Their names have not been released, according to Sheriff's Office protocol, he said.
Arrests were made during the massive law enforcement operation but the suspects names were not available as of press time.
Law enforcement officials have been facing heightened violence in marijuana gardens this year. On June 30 in Napa County, a Fresno man was killed near Lake Berryessa after authorities said he drew his gun and refused orders by Napa Special Investigations Bureau officers to put it down.
On July 27, a Mendocino County deputy shot and killed a man who leveled a rifle at authorities raiding a garden in the northeastern part of the county near Tehama County, officials said.
A shooting in Lake County occurred Aug. 4 under similar circumstances, according to law enforcement officials.
There also was an officer-involved, pot-garden shooting in Santa Clara County on July 21.
The number of violent confrontations between law enforcement and marijuana growing suspects in Mendocino County is unusual, Allman said.
"I don't remember another year where we've had this type of resistance," he said.
He said he'd been warned that marijuana garden violence would escalate as organized crime moved into the county.