Manhunt on for 2 suspects in cannabis-related Santa Rosa home invasion robbery
Two robbers Wednesday morning stormed a home on the southwestern outskirts of Santa Rosa, tying up a male occupant and making off with an unknown amount of cannabis, the latest in a spate of violent Sonoma County home invasions this year by intruders seeking to steal marijuana.
The coordinated assault came just before 9:30 a.m. on quiet residential street off Todd Lane, less than 2 miles from where a homeowner was shot and killed in February by masked gunmen demanding cash and pot.
A man came to the front door of a small blue house in the 3300 block of Primrose Court, while a second man entered the back door with a handgun, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office.
The male occupant inside the home was tied up and left uninjured as the robbers stole a load of cannabis and fled in a newer model large gray van with chrome above the rear window and visible roof racks, said Sgt. Spencer Crum. At least one other person was home at the time of the robbery.
The suspects were described as tall, thin Hispanic men in their 30s, and were considered armed and dangerous, Crum said. Their whereabouts remained unknown Wednesday evening, and no other physical description was given.
Scanner reports at the time indicated they may have fled with as much as 100 pounds of marijuana, but Crum said that detail could not be confirmed.
The Primrose Court property abuts Bellevue Elementary School property. Classes were in session when the armed robbery took place about 100 yards away.
The violence marked another case of pot-related violence in Sonoma County, with seven home invasions in four separate cases reported so far this year. Two of the invasions, including Wednesday's, have occurred in the unincorporated neighborhood just beyond Santa Rosa's southern boundary.
“We stand with the neighboring people. We understand. We understand and we are equally as concerned,” Crum said of the rash of pot-related violence.
In the last incident off Todd Road, family members at a home off Melcon Way home were tied up by masked intruders seeking pot and cash. They shot and killed the homeowner, Jose Luis Torres, 54, the owner of a local appliance repair business, and made off with weapons from the home. Deputies observed evidence of cannabis cultivation and sales at the house.
Earlier that same morning, Feb. 8, the same group had burst into a home 5 miles to the north on the 1900 block of Fulton Road, where a 42-year-old father was shot in the arm and his family members, including children ages 9 to 18, were pistol-whipped and tied up with duct tape. The intruders demanded marijuana and money, but no evidence of drugs or other illicit activity was found at the home, Crum said at the time.
Four of the five suspects in that case were later arrested. Authorities said they were seeking to sell Sonoma County cannabis at a premium on the East Coast. A fifth suspect remains at large.
A neighbor who has lived on Primrose Court for more than two decades and declined to give his name, said a woman who lived in the home had been growing large amounts of cannabis inside a converted garage for at least 10 years. The neighbor did not hear the reported robbery, but had observed frequent traffic coming to the home, including vehicles with out-of-state license plates and believed sales might have been conducted.
“Sooner or later, something was going to happen,” the neighbor said.
Crum said he was not aware of any other calls for law enforcement service at the address in the past five years.
A neighbor who declined to be named because of a personal relationship with residents of the targeted home was not aware of any cannabis cultivation at the property and described the residents as “great people.” The neighbor, an 18-year resident of the area, was not fearful of additional marijuana-related violence in the rural area.
“I feel like this is an isolated incident,” the neighbor said.
Officials with Sonoma County's planning department said no cannabis-related permits had been sought or issued for the Primrose Court address. Maggie Fleming, a department spokeswoman, said the agency had no records of cannabis-related complaints or code enforcement actions at the home.
The Permit and Resource Management Department has received four non-cannabis related complaints about the Primrose Avenue property, which resulted in building code violations for unpermitted construction and substandard housing conditions. The four code violations were noted between 1987 and 2003 and were all remedied, Fleming said.
Crum said if the residents were distributing or growing cannabis without a license, it would be considered a code violation that would be handled by the planning department.
He said it was unlikely Wednesday's incident was related to the previous home invasions this year, which hit three homes in Petaluma in March and a home in Cloverdale in January. All eight suspects in the Petaluma case, which also had ties to the East Coast, have been arrested and were transferred to federal custody Wednesday.
Crum contended voters' passage of Proposition 64 in November 2016, legalizing trade in recreational cannabis this year, sent a message to would-be criminals: “Weed is abundant in Sonoma County and California.”
Data about annual cannabis-related crimes and home invasions in Sonoma County prior to the legalization of recreational cannabis was not immediately available, Crum said.
He asserted that violent crime related to cannabis in the Sonoma County has spiked in the aftermath of the Prop. 64 vote, but he did not have statistics available to support that claim.
“We saw in Colorado, as soon as marijuana was legalized, there was a spike in violent crime related to marijuana, and we're starting to see that here. ... It's not unexpected.”
Between 2014, the year recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado, and 2016, violent crime in the state has increased nearly 15 percent, according to data from the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice. Violent crime has also increased by 8 percent nationwide during that same time frame, according to that data.
However, a June 2015 research project by students with the Metropolitan State University of Denver found no conclusive connection between marijuana legalization and rising crime rates.
Staff Writer Christi Warren contributed to this story.
You can reach Staff Writer Hannah Beausang at 707-521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @hannahbeausang.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to include more detailed information about the record of Sonoma County code enforcement actions at the Primrose Court property.