Shootout, arrest at illegal marijuana farm near Mount Madonna County Park

By Stephen BaxterSanta Cruz Sentinel: 06/28/2012

MOUNT MADONNA – A man was shot in the arm and later arrested during a raid of an illegal marijuana grow near Mount Madonna County Park on Thursday.

Deputies searched for a second suspect Thursday afternoon but did not find him, said Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jose Cardoza.

They planned to finish the search for the outstanding suspect at sundown Thursday.

The illegal marijuana grow was in a remote area about an hour’s hike southeast of Hecker Pass Road outside the park, said Cardoza. Authorities did not know whether the outstanding suspect had a gun, but two rifles were found near the grow.

“Because it’s such a remote area we don’t believe he’s a threat to public safety,” Cardoza said of the suspect who fled.

About 6 a.m. Thursday, nine Santa Clara County Sheriff’s deputies and California Fish and Game wardens in a marijuana eradication team started a hike to the marijuana grow above Bodfish Creek.

They arrived and found two men. About 11:45 a.m. deputies fired several shots at them. It was unclear if the suspects fired back, Cardoza said.

One suspect was wounded; both fled.

About 12:30 p.m., Santa Cruz County 911 dispatchers received a call from a Spanish speaking man who said he was shot in the arm. He wanted medical help.

He talked to authorities by cellphone as law enforcement agents tried to find him from the air.

A Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s SWAT team coincidentally had been training in the area, Cardoza said. The man surrendered to them about 2:30 p.m. just off Whitehurst and Hecker Pass Road in Santa Clara County, according to dispatches.

They treated his injury – which authorities said was not life-threatening – and he was taken to a hospital.

The man was arrested on suspicion of illegal marijuana cultivation and faces potential weapons charges, Cardoza said. His name and age have not been released.

“It’s a dangerous operation that these suspects take part in,” Cardoza said of illegal marijuana grows.

Deputies have not yet estimated the size of the grow.

Cardoza said deputies have probed other pot gardens in Southern Santa Clara County near Santa Cruz County in recent years. The marijuana eradication team typically identifies the grows in March and April and raids them during summer harvests.

“It’s not uncommon for them to grow thousands of plants,” Cardoza said. Deputies “pull them out by hand, root and all.”

Thursday afternoon, a few dozen heavily armed deputies from both counties set up a perimeter in the forest south of Mount Madonna County Park. The 3,688-acre park marks the county line between Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties.

They used ATVs, K-9s and a helicopter in the search. California Highway Patrol officers also participated in the search.

As law enforcement agents staged near a ranger station, the quiet, hot park remained open to joggers, dog walkers, horseback riders and other visitors.

Kevin Campbell, who works at Mount Madonna School, was jogging in the park. He was not surprised that authorities found a marijuana plantation in the woods.

“The biggest thing for me is that they leave their trash,” Campbell said. Campfire cooking also could lead to wildfires, he said.

“It’s mostly the trash, the fire danger and the dudes with guns in the woods. That’s unacceptable,” Campbell said.