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Raids of Mendocino County pot farms turn up 32,000 plants

Authorities in Mendocino County located more than 32,000 marijuana plants during recent raids of illegal pot farms.

The raids were a part of a broader crackdown on the increasing number of marijuana grows on tribal land in Covelo designated for Round Valley Indian Tribe members, Mendocino County Sheriff’s Lt. Shannon Barney said. Many of the large-scale grows discovered by authorities have been started from people from outside the area, he added.

“It’s basically a focused effort to deal with this type of operation that has really blown up in Round Valley,” Barney said.

None of the suspects detained during the raids was placed into custody, in part to reduce the risk of bringing the coronavirus the Mendocino County Jail.

Instead, investigators will forward their completed investigations to prosecutors, who will then determine whether to file charges against any of the people stopped by authorities, Barney said. Officers from neighboring agencies, the FBI and the Round Valley Indian Tribal Police assisted with the raids.

The first two raids happened Wednesday morning, when authorities served search warrants at two adjoining properties along Crawford Road in Covelo, Barney said.

An inspection of one of the properties turned up 14,400 marijuana plants, some located in an open field and others in makeshift greenhouses. About 1,750 pounds of dried marijuana buds were scattered across the property and a shotgun and an AR-15 style rifle were discovered in sleeping areas, Barney said.

Eight men were located, detained and identified as suspects in the marijuana grow. All were from outside the area, including two from the Sacramento County town of Galt and three others from the Mexican state of Michoacán, authorities said.

Covelo resident Douglas Lincoln, 63, arrived at the grow site after authorities detained the group and told investigators that he was responsible for a portion of the grow, Barney said. The adjoining property housed 765 marijuana plants. No one was located there.

A 17-year-old girl from Salinas who was found at the marijuana grow was placed in child protective custody after authorities could not find anyone she knew on the marijuana farm.

She told investigators she was dropped off at the grow a day prior to help trim marijuana. The situation caused authorities to launch a separate investigation.

“Because of the known history with events like this, we had a concern that she might have been trafficked sexually or used for her labor,” said Barney, who added that the teen denied being sexually abused when asked by deputies.

Another search warrant was served Thursday morning at a nearby property on the 23700 block of Biggar Lane in Covelo. About 9,300 marijuana plants were being grown in open fields and 35 hoop houses, authorities said.

Two men from outside of the area and a woman who lived on the property were detained by deputies and will be investigated in connection with the marijuana grow, Barney said. Two men who ran into nearby brush when officers arrived could not be located.

Authorities allege Covelo resident Johnny Azbill, 39, also eluded police when they served a separate search warrant at a property along Highway 162 in Covelo Thursday afternoon.

Azbill ran into a creek bed when authorities arrived, leaving behind a loaded 9mm handgun that fell from his waistband as he fled, Barney said.

Nearly 8,400 marijuana plants were found in open fields and hoop houses by the time officials finished their search. Police discovered a second firearm in a vehicle reportedly used by Azbill, whose past convictions bar him from owning any weapons, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office said.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

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