Private Security Group Cracks Down on NoCal Pot Growers

By Paul Gaita 09/26/14

Dressed in fatigues and armed with assault rifles, a wanna-be SEAL Team 6 has been launching commando-style raids without coordination with law enforcement.

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For much of 2014, residents of northern California’s Mendocino County reported the growing presence of heavily armed security teams arriving by unmarked helicopters on public and private land to eradicate marijuana crops, both legal and otherwise. The teams, dressed in military-style camouflage and carrying no official identification, are not affiliated with local or state law enforcement or even the military, but nevertheless carry out police-style raids on suspected pot growers.

While rumors have swirled that the armed men are members of a vigilante group or even a drug cartel, the teams are actually members of Lear Asset Management, a private security firm that has generated considerable attention in the region—part of the marijuana production epicenter known as the “Emerald Triangle”—for its paramilitary tactics.

Founded in 2011 after the murder of Fort Bragg city councilman Jere Melo by a trespasser on private land, Lear owner Paul Trouette views his firm’s operations as providing a service to residents and landowners that is beyond the capabilities of local police.

“[Lear is] on the cutting edge of citizens becoming involved in their communities and utilizing their legal rights to affect positive change in their communities,” said Trouette in an interview with online news outfit Talking Points Memo.

But while the company’s promotional material claims that its efforts are done in conjunction with state and federal law enforcement officials, the Drug Enforcement Agency, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Forest Service have all stated that they have no contracts with Lear. In an interview with TPM, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman expressed concern about the possibility of sending his officers to investigate a situation involving residents and armed security forces.

“I’m not going to say anything negative about his business,” explained Allman. “[But] if a citizen calls up and says, ‘Listen, there’s men with long guns and camouflage green that look like policemen that are cutting my marijuana down,” and my dispatcher goes, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s not us,” what we’re going to do is we’re going to send cops with guns to this location where we think there’s a marijuana rip-off. [And] a lot more things are going to go wrong than are going to go right.”

So far, no guns have been drawn in conflicts with residents and Lear’s employees, though stories abound of residents with reportedly legal marijuana plants encountering armed men in unmarked choppers who arrive without notice or proper identification to decimate their growth. Lear has denied involvement in these raids, and the sheriff’s department continues to maintain that they have not hired Lear to conduct any work.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.