|The victim: Fort Bragg Councilmember and veteran forester Jere Melo was murdered on August 27, 2011 — but not by a marijuana farmer.
By Jack Rikess
Toke of the Town
Northern California Correspondent
The sham, the tragedy, is that this press release should have said it all…
Fort Bragg, CA (PRWEB) January 19, 2012
Along with a group of concerned citizens, Madeleine Melo has formed the Jere Melo Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation.
When Fort Bragg Councilmember and veteran forester Jere Melo was murdered on August 27th, 2011 the entire community of Fort Bragg, California was in shock. Melo was gunned down while investigating a report of a marijuana grow on private timberlands.
Madeleine, Jere’s widow, wants to put a stop to the violence and environmental damage caused by illegal marijuana grows. “Nobody else should be killed over marijuana,” said Madeleine, “we need to clean up our woods and that’s what Jere tried so hard to do.”
The foundation’s initial focus will be to create public awareness of what JMF Board Chairman Stephen Horner called a situation that has “reached a crisis level.”
A board of directors was appointed and represents various public sectors. The initial board members are:
John Andersen – Area Manager, Mendocino Redwood Company
Maribelle Anderson – Anderson Logging
Dan Catone – Owner, Financial Advisor, Redwood Investments
Stephen Horner – Manager, Campbell Timberland
Roy Kornmeyer – Real Property Appraiser, Mendocino County
Scott Mayberry – Fort Bragg Police Chief
Madeleine Melo – Retired Certified Nurse-Midwife
Lindy Peters – Sports Director and Radio Personality, KUNK
Paul Trouette – Mendocino County Fish and Game commissioner, President of Mendocino County Blacktail Association
About the Jere Melo Foundation
The Jere Melo Foundation (http://www.jeremelo.org) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate the community about the need for safety and environmental health in forest lands and open space on public and private property.
As stated above, a foundation in Jere Melo’s name was established by his widow. Sincerely, I wish them the best of luck for their new endeavor.
I just wish that they had told the truth.
While I was on assignment for Toke of the Town covering this story
, the L.A. Times
had printed the erroneous headline, “Ft. Bragg Councilman Killed in Marijuana Grow!” and continued to print
this report that former Ft. Bragg mayor and timber corporation advisor, Jere Melo, was killed while investigating illegal marijuana grow or garden.
This story ran over the weekend news cycle into Monday night. The Grey Lady of L.A. boasted this headline for more than three days in paper and online.
|Mendocino County Sheriff
|The killer: Aaron Bassler was finally gunned down after local law enforcement, FBI agents and bloodhounds forced him out of his fortified bunker on October 4, 2011
Soon after, it was first reported nationally by Toke of the Town that A) Jere Melo wasn’t shot in a marijuana grow but in an opium grow, B) The killer might be a demented survivalist, not a pot grower, and C) that the shooting might be related to the homicide two weeks earlier of environmentalist Matthew Coleman. Coleman had been working alone in the National Forest, reclaiming government land, that is, picking up the debris and such that gets left behind after an illegal marijuana grow. It is assumed that either Coleman was surprised by or knew the gunman because police reports said there were no signs of a struggle.
Starting in late August 2011 a well-organized manhunt occurred in the Mendocino coast area seeking a local kid named Aaron Bassler, the murderer of Jere Melo. The town of Ft. Bragg and the adjoining areas were told to stay indoors and be on the lookout for a desperate madman. For 35 days, someone apparently way off their meds, with a fifty-caliber machine gun in tote, evaded the Law and scared the locals with various incidents of breaking and entering and having his way with their innocent lives. This had nothing to do with cannabis.
Aaron Bassler was finally gunned down after a sweeping effort of local law enforcement, the FBI and bloodhounds forced him out of his fortified bunker on October 4th, 2011. From the end of August until Bassler’s death, the citizens in the vicinity lived in fear and terror of being that close to the shadow of a crazed killer.
How could be they be sure he was crazed? His dad said so.
|Sharon Davis, executive director, Jere Melo Foundation: “The problem is illegally grown marijuana on public and private land. It’s very hazardous for people”
James Bassler said, “[he]was not altogether surprised by the violence,” and admitted he kept a gun on his nightstand for protection against his son (until his son was killed). For James Bassler, as a parent, trying to deal with his son was tormenting and agonizing. Aaron Bassler was a shy but seemingly normal boy until his late teens, when he began a dark descent into mental illness, according to his father.
Aaron Bassler had at least nine brushes with the law since 1995 when he was 19. He’d been arrested and charged with crimes that included prowling, vandalism, carrying a concealed Glock pistol and resisting arrest, according to court records. And Bassler’s story goes on with the cash-strapped family seeking help from a rural health care system that isn’t set up with the resources to negotiate with a gun-toting schizophrenic.
Jere Melo tragically died that day but not because of illegal marijuana grows, but rather due to the lapses of judgment surrounding Aaron Bassler and his mental history. High-powered rifles and schizophrenia just may not be a good combination.
But I’ve digressed…
When its formation first came to my attention, I called Sharon Davis, spokesperson for Jere Melo Foundation. I asked her why the organization is focusing on, in their opinion, the rampant growing of illegal marijuana in our national forests, when the facts are that Melo was shot and killed on timber land while investigating an opium grow.
“He was investigating the reports of a marijuana grow for the timber company where he was employed,” Davis said in our phone interview. “It turns out that it was in fact an opium grow, not marijuana grow. But it doesn’t make any difference. We are about educating the public about what is happening on national forest lands. We don’t care if they’re growing vegetables…This is about the deforestation of our park lands. Our park lands should be safe. We want to make sure that no one else gets killed.”
Toke: What about Mr. Melo’s killer, Aaron Bassler? He didn’t have anything to do with growing marijuana, wasn’t a grower and had a 20-year history of mental illness in the Mendocino County record books. Why connect the killing to what is happening on federal land?
Sharon Davis: That is not our focus. Aaron Bassler isn’t what we’re about. Jere Melo isn’t the only person to be killed.
Toke: What about environmentalist Mathew Coleman? He was reclaiming land that had been taken over, supposedly by a marijuana grow. The Sheriff’s Department has stated that there is a connection between Mathew Coleman’s killing and Mr. Melo’s.
Sharon Davis: Regarding Mathew Coleman, we’re aware of that situation, and as far as we’re concerned, nothing has been determined with that killing. Again, we’re not going to point blame. We want to educate the public about what is happening on our lands. The prob
lem is the illegally grown marijuana on public and private land. It’s very hazardous for people. We want to shine a light on that situation. This is a safety issue. No one should be harmed or hurt by just going in a park.
Toke: We agree. That is why we were saddened with the news of Mendocino 9.31 program demise. We thought that by coming out as it were, it would help with the problem of illegal grows in private and public lands.
Sharon Davis: The perception is that marijuana is the heart of our economy. We have a timber industry and others that support this area. We do not rely on marijuana for our economy. There is a very large percent of the population that does not support the marijuana industry and knows we can survive without it. But right now, our focus is on illegal cultivation.
Toke: Do you ever foresee a time when cannabis would be acceptable to your community with regulations?
Sharon Davis: We’re concentrating on educating the public about what is happening on the lands around us.
• • • • • • •
The Jere Melo Foundation website opens with, “Did you know that drug-related deaths now outnumber traffic-related deaths in the U.S.?”
In perusing their meeting minutes, I read that they’ve invited Senator Diane Feinstein to speak at one of their hearings. She’s agreed. (Cannot get her to support medical marijuana — but for this she comes out.)
They have a fundraising concert planned that will be alcohol-free. The predominantly timber-heavy foundation has plans for the proposed gross revenue of $112,000 to help fund their program of educating the public to what they want you to believe is the cause of Jere Melo’s death.
The truth is that poor Jere Melo died working for the timber company on a Saturday last August when he came upon a nutcase in a heroin patch. This particular nutjob had an almost two-decade association with Mendocino health care workers and their law enforcement agents, not to mention a run-in with the Chinese consulate in San Francisco.
I’m not trying to be MSNBC to the Foundation’s Fox News. But please, tell the truth and use the Foundation money to assist with the mental health programs in Mendocino.
Their pockets are empty.
|Toke of the Town correspondent Jack Rikess blogs from the Haight in San Francisco
Jack Rikess, a former stand-up comic, writes a regular column most directly found at jackrikess.com.
Jack delivers real-time coverage following the cannabis community, focusing on politics and culture.
His beat includes San Francisco, the Bay Area and Mendocino-Humboldt counties.
He has been quoted by the national media and is known for his unique view with thoughtful, insightful perspective.