Man dead, 2 deputies shot in Rastafarian pot farm dispute

OREGON HOUSE, Calif. (AP) — A gunman was found dead inside a rural home Tuesday after he shot and wounded two California sheriff’s deputies responding to reports of someone pulling up marijuana plants on a farm that supplies pot to a Rastafarian church, authorities said.

It began shortly before 9 a.m. with three deputies responding separately to the Yuba Trees Church in rural Oregon House about 55 miles north of Sacramento.

A resident pointed out the suspect to two of the arriving deputies who called out for him to stop and talk to them.

Instead, the man fled up a hill behind the farm and the chasing deputies lost sight of him near another home about 100 yards away.

The deputies were given permission to search the home. Two went in through the front door and the third went to guard the backdoor.

Once the deputies were inside, the gunman began shooting and the deputies returned fire. One of the deputies was struck twice and the other was hit once or twice in the arm, Yuba County Sheriff Steven Durfor said.

The deputy outside didn’t see the gunman flee and didn’t know where he was when he went inside twice to pull his colleagues to safety. SWAT teams surrounded the house, lobbing tear gas inside and ordering the shooter to surrender. At about 2 p.m., police rushed the house and found the gunman dead.

The sheriff said they had not identified the shooter or determined if the deputies killed him or he shot himself.

The sheriff said the deputies were taken by helicopter to a hospital and both were in serious condition and expected to recover after surgery.

Sugarleaf Rastafarian Church leader Heidi Lepp said she received a call from church members who live on the marijuana farm saying a newly arrived worker had become erratic and was holding a gun while ripping up plants.

Lepp said she called the sheriff’s office and told the men on the farm to leave immediately.

Lepp said she knows the suspect only as “Sawyer” and he showed up at the farm about a month ago. The property is owned by a branch of Lepp’s church, she said.

The property is between 20 and 40 acres, Lepp said, and the church considers marijuana a sacrament. It does not have a permit to grow medicinal marijuana in Yuba County.

Lepp said the farm has been targets of crimes but that workers have been scared to call the police for fear that they would seize the plants or attempt to shut it down.

The shooting occurred a day after two police officers were shot and wounded nearly 200 miles to the south in Los Banos during a struggle with a man who broke into his estranged wife’s apartment. Police fatally shot the man.

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