Crime

Merced man killed while trying to rob pot dispensary

Merced County Sheriff’s detectives investigate a home in the 3100 block of Franklin Avenue on Monday, where a home invasion that turned into a gunfight left to injured and one dead. The home was operating as a marijuana dispensary, deputies said.
Merced County Sheriff’s detectives investigate a home in the 3100 block of Franklin Avenue on Monday, where a home invasion that turned into a gunfight left to injured and one dead. The home was operating as a marijuana dispensary, deputies said. tmiller@mercedsunstar.com

A home invasion robbery at an illegal marijuana dispensary turned into a gunfight that left two injured and one Merced man dead early Monday, Merced County Sheriff’s deputies said.

The 29-year-old man who was killed was among a group of men who allegedly tried to invade the dispensary in the 3100 block of Franklin Road, according to Sheriff’s Sgt. Delray Shelton. His name has not been released.

According to Shelton, the group of men knocked on the door of the home around 2 a.m., awakening the 55-year-old male resident, a 47-year-old woman and their 26-year-old son. The men initially said they were having car problems but then tried to force their way into the home, which is operated as as a marijuana dispensary, and they exchanged fire with the homeowners, deputies said.

“We know that the narcotics trade is directly connected to the violence,” Shelton said.

This is the second law enforcement-related action in as many weeks at a Merced County dispensary while the city of Merced seems to be warming up to the idea of allowing one or more dispensaries by May. Deputies closed down Kiona’s Farm’acy on Main Street in Merced on March 8.

The 55-year-old homeowner and one of the men, a 27-year-old from Merced, were injured by the gun fire and were taken to Modesto-area hospitals. The homeowner sustained minor injuries and the younger man was reported to be in serious but stable condition.

Shelton said investigators found marijuana plants and products in varying stages of maturity. The dispensary is less than a mile from Franklin Elementary School, but there were no children on campus when the shootout happened.

Carl Starks, who lives in the area, said he didn’t hear any gun fire. The 78-year-old walked out of his house to head to the gym early Monday morning to find the street blocked off.

He said he has a good relationship with the family in the home and they help each other out on occasion like most neighbors. “The don’t bother nobody,” he said. “They mind their own business.”

The Franklin home sits on the edge of a cul-de-sac in unincorporated Merced County, though the homes have a Merced address.

Another neighbor on the cul-de-sac, Sherrie Andrews, echoed that thought. “He’s always been nice to us,” she said.

A resident in the neighborhood for about 20 years, Andrews said the violence didn’t worry her.

Last week, deputies served an eviction notice at Kiona’s, which is owned by outspoken medical cannabis advocate Lakisha Jenkins. She said she was worried her patients would go without medical cannabis if she is closed for any length of time.

The community that uses medical cannabis still has its doubts the Merced ordinance will ever come to fruition, according to Arturo Durazo, a doctoral candidate at UC Merced. The 46-year-old, who studies health psychology, is a cancer survivor and medical cannabis user.

He said patients need to have safe access to medical marijuana. “I’m actually very frustrated by the ambivalence of the city,” he said on Monday. “They may be contributing to making people suffer more.”

Advocates often argue that pushing the dispensaries underground leads to violence, so the dispensaries should be regulated and allowed to operate above board.

Merced banned all cannabis cultivation and sales in January. This month, the Merced City Council did not taken any official vote, but asked city staff to draw up an ordinance that would allow dispensaries.

Durazo said the cities too often focus on the opinion of law enforcement officers and do not seek advice from expert advocates.

In the meantime, patients without access suffer. “Their ban is a statement they do not appreciate the gravity,” he said.

Merced County allows homeowners to grow up to 12 plants per parcel in unincorporated areas, but has banned dispensaries.

Thaddeus Miller: 209-385-2453, @thaddeusmiller

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