The intruders beat and forced the home’s two residents “to the ground at gunpoint,” going on to bind their hands and ankles with duct tape and toss them into a shed, where they were “then beaten and threatened some more,” and forced to reveal the location of cash and valuables, according to a SMSO press release.
The two men’s ordeal ended early Wednesday, Sept. 7, when they showed up at the San Miguel Sheriff’s Office with “the chewed-apart remnants of their duct-tape bonds still hanging from their wrists and ankles.”
The targeted victims, roommates and medical marijuana cardholders who had expanded their allotted three-plants-per-person grow operation into a larger but, Masters emphasized, “non-commercial” (and illegal) grow operation, some of it on public land, lost the crop, as well as “1,000-watt Honda generator, a blue Taurus snub-nosed revolver with a leather holster and a several thousand dollars in cash.”
A third victim – a woman neighbor who stopped by in the early hours of the invasion was taped and tossed into the shed alongside the duo – refused to go with them to the police, still terrified by the invaders’ threats.
“This has happened in Montrose, where there have been some home invasions,” Masters said this week. “They are a growing phenomenon, and they are getting reported more, throughout the Southwest.”
With growing and selling marijuana “legal in Colorado,” he said, “I think we’re going to see more reporting of these kinds of incidents.
“Most of the time when you see a home-invasion-style event – I’m not saying always, but most of the time, ” he added, “there is a drug component.
Awakened From a Late-Afternoon Nap
The two men told police of being held captive after one was awakened from a late Tuesday afternoon nap by “two men dressed in a combination of hunter's camouflage and military-style desert camouflage,” their faces covered with masks.
The assailants were armed “with what appeared to be AK-47-style rifles” and 75-round magazines, Masters said. “There was a very large degree of firepower there.”
The assailants bragged to their victims that “they planned to visit other growers in the area to steal their [marijuana] crops, as well.”
Was it an incident waiting to happen?
“I was surprised by the violence of it,” Masters said, “but I think I would not have been surprised if somebody had gone there and stolen the marijuana in a theft.
“But to confront these people with these kinds of AK-47s,” he said, of the selective-fire, gas-operated 7.62x39 mm assault rifle developed in the Soviet Union by Mikhail Kalashinkov in the last days of World War II that produces significant wounding effects in tissue when the projectile tumbles and fragments, “I am a little surprised.”
‘An Inside Job?’
“I think it was probably an inside job, or Mafia-related,” said one San Miguel County grower, following reports of the home invasion. “I’ve heard some negative things, and I know there are some shady fellows. But the more I think about it, it sounds like an inside job.”
Given the legalization of marijuana in the State of Colorado, Masters said, “I think we’re going to see more reporting of these kinds of incidents,” which have, he added, “been going on for a long period of time,” but are generally unreported in areas where marijuana cultivation and sale is illegal.
“There have been a lot of ripoffs and home invasions regarding drug dealing; it’s a very serious epidemic in Arizona, particularly, and along the border.
According to onetime Western Slope grower, who got out of the business after last year’s early-October harvest, the constant fear of crop theft – and worse – is a thing of the past. Today, “My anxiety level is gone. Last night, there was a full moon and I was working in my greenhouse,” where he once grew marijuana, “and I was thinking, ‘This is what I like.’”
Perhaps the best-secured San Miguel County grow operation is in Illium Valley, near the Sheriff’s Office.
The Illium growers did not seek out the location because of its proximity to the SMSO, Masters said, but rather “got a good deal on the property and thought it was a good spot for them,” he said.
But safety issues (not to mention the longer growing season) may soon send grow operations indoors. “I think we will see real professional operators go to keeping it indoors,” Masters said. “It certainly seems like having a compliant building, where you can secure it properly, and possibly alarm it or do whatever else needs to be done, is a lot better” than grow ops on remote private and even public lands.
“Since you’re not growing it like corn, why have it outside, on huge acreage?
The marijuana harvest begins next month – too late for last week’s home invaders, who cut and transported plants “eight weeks away from maturing,” so early that the product is more “like ditch-weed” than marketable marijuana, Masters reported.
But the fear now left in the wake of the Sept. 6-7 home invasion may have unintended troubling consequences.
“One of the things that concerns me is the people who might be protecting their own crops need to understand, if they’re medical marijuana patients, that they’re dealing with a certain toxicity in their systems, at all times, that may not be conducive to carrying firearms or driving or other things,” said Masters.
“I’m concerned that somebody is going to mistakenly use firearms against someone. There are a lot of people dressed in camo around there, now that it’s bow-hunting season, and somebody could stumble across a private property line….”
But according to one longtime Norwood resident, where the freedom that comes alongside the remoteness offsets worries of vulnerability, “You don’t want to mess with anybody in Norwood, because most of us already carry guns.”
Should the attackers try to make good on their threat to rob other growers, he said, “This is not going to be pretty.”
An earlier version of this story appeared on watchnewspapers.com on Sunday, Sept. 10.
POSTED on Sunday, September 10, 2011
SAN MIGUEL COUNTY – “It was basically 12 hours of terror,” San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters said Thursday afternoon, describing a home invasion on the outskirts of Norwood that ended Wednesday morning when two of the three victims showed up at the Sheriff's Office with, according to a Thursday-afternoon press release, “the chewed-apart remnants of their duct-tape bonds still hanging from their wrists and ankles.”
The two men, who are medicinal marijuana cardholders (and roommates), told of being held captive after one was awakened from a nap late Tuesday afternoon by “two men dressed in a combination of hunter's camouflage and military-style desert camouflage,” their faces covered with masks.
Their assailants were armed “with what appeared to be AK-47-style rifles” and 75-round magazines, Masters said. “There was a very large degree of firepower there."
The intruders beat and forced the two men “to the ground at gunpoint,” going on to bind their hands and ankles with duct tape and toss them into a shed, where they were “then beaten and threatened some more,” and forced to reveal the location of cash and valuables.
Although the two victims had permits to grow marijuana, they are permitted to grow only a “limited amount of plants, by Colorado law,” according to the SMSO press release. Masters disputes descriptions of their facility as a “medical marijuana grow center,” but, he said, “they grew pot there, and much like any time people think you have a product, cash or valuables,” they were robbed.
“Banks get robbed,” he said, and “there are a number of people in that area that either grow for themselves or have permits, and the word has gotten out, among the crooks.
“It was basically a home invasion,” he said, “just a home invasion with a different label.”
A female neighbor who came by for a visit “was aggressively set upon by the robbers and assaulted,” according to the SMSO press release, pistol-whipped, bound with duct tape and tossed into the shed alongside her friends, one of whom was doused with water and “assaulted with an electronic stun gun, in retaliation for attempting to warn her” about the attack.
“The assailants proceeded to chop down the marijuana plants and load them into the victims' cars,” and then transported the plants – as well as a “1,000-watt Honda generator, a blue Taurus snub-nosed revolver with a leather holster and several thousand dollars in cash – to an unknown location.”
The vehicles were returned, but “left … vandalized at the scene.” The assailants had bragged to their victims that “they planned to visit other growers in the area to steal their [marijuana] crops, as well.”
The plants they stole, Masters reports, were at least “eight weeks away from maturing,” and more “like ditch-weed” than marketable marijuana.
“It's not very good stuff,” he said. Of the assailants, he said, “These guys are clowns.”
According to the SMSO press release, “It is possible that the stolen goods were taken 60 miles or more from the scene of the crime, possibly covering several counties and/or entering Utah,” by one assailant, while the second assailant “remained as a guard.” After one victim freed himself and fled, just before dawn, “the two robbers fled on foot, and may have been picked up by an accomplice in an automobile.
“All three victims were threatened with being killed” if they went to the police, according to the report, “and the female victim has not yet spoken about her ordeal, fearing retaliation from the assailants. At least two shots were fired by the robbers” over the 12-hour home invasion, but there were no injuries.
The SMSO is offering $1,000 for information leading to the capture of the assailants. One is “tall, at least six feet,” weighing 180-200 pounds, with blond hair and “very blue eyes.” He was wearing a black fleece jacket with 3W embroidered on the breast in red, a camouflage “boonie” hat, and had a blue bandanna covering his face.
The second is “shorter, about 5'9”,” and weighing 170 pounds; he's “white, possibly Hispanic,” was carrying a large long-barrel silver revolver, and wore a full camouflage “bowhunting-type” face mask.
The SMSO, assisted by the Norwood Marshal's Office, the Montrose County Sheriff's Office and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation in its response to the incident, is offering a $1,000 reward “to any person who can provide information that leads to the apprehension of the perpetrators. You can remain anonymous.”
“We have lots of leads,” said Masters, regarding the assailants, “and lots of information.” Call the SMSO at 970/728-1911 or call Masters directly at 970/729-2025.