California Rastafarian cannabis farm dispute ends with one man dead, 2 deputies shot

OREGON HOUSE, Calif. — A Northern California sheriff’s deputy ran into a house to pull two wounded colleagues to safety after a shootout with a suspect at a Rastafarian church’s marijuana farm.

The two deputies were expected to survive after the third, a 22-year veteran, put in an officers-down call and by himself entered the house in which the gunman had fled, Yuba County Sheriff Steve Durfor said.

The deputy did not see the suspect or hear any gunfire while rescuing the two officers Tuesday, and later when a SWAT team members entered the house he was found dead. It is likely the suspect died from the deputies’ return gunfire, Durfor said, but it’s possible his wounds were self-inflicted.

The suspect had been working for about a month at the farm of Sugarleaf Rastafarian Church, which holds marijuana sacred and grows it on the farm about 55 miles (88.5 kilometers) north of Sacramento. The church’s leader, Heidi Lepp, said she received a call from church members who worked on the farm saying the man, whom she knew only as “Sawyer,” was ripping up plants and wielding a gun. She told the workers to leave and called authorities.

When the deputies arrived, the man fled about 100 yards (91.4 meters) up a hill toward homes on the property.

A woman gave the deputies permission to enter her home, and the man fired on two deputies when they entered. The deputies returned fire.

The third deputy, who had taken up a position at the backdoor, then ran inside to get his colleagues.

The sheriff said the deputies, department veterans of 14 and 10 years, respectively, were airlifted to a hospital and arrived “conscious, talkative and stable.”

Both were in serious condition, but each was expected to recover after undergoing surgery.

The property is between 20 and 40 acres and is owned by a branch of Lepp’s church, she said. It does not have a permit to grow medicinal marijuana in Yuba County.

But Joseph Tully, her attorney, said they have a good relationship with law enforcement.

“They had no problem calling the authorities, because they were having a problem there,” Tully told the Sacramento Bee. “They have a very open-door relationship.”

Associated Press writer Paul Elias contributed to this story.



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