|Photo: Cal Pot News|
|Fort Bragg City Councilman Jere Melo was shot to death after finding not a marijuana grow site, but an opium poppy grow site.|
“I just wish I could tell the marijuana haters, we’re on your side. This isn’t us. Both of these guys were killed by murderers. People who would kill whether it was because of weed or maybe a fight over a girl.”
~ Mendocino Grower
Northern California Correspondent
It was Saturday afternoon when I read online that Ft. Bragg councilman and the once mayor, Jere Melo, was shot while exploring a marijuana grow. First reports were Melo and another man had taken multiple shots when a crazed gunman surprised the pair as they were investigating claims for a timber company that they both worked for, that a remote marijuana grow was operating in the area.
Later that night it was confirmed that city councilman Jere Melo was dead at 73. You could tell by the outpouring of the shocked and grieving comments that Melo was a beloved father and husband, respected deeply as local civic leader and a lover of the woods that initially brought him to the area as a forester in the Sixties.
By Sunday, the L.A. Times, A/P wire service and others continued with that headline that, “City councilman killed after finding CA pot field.”
That headline ran for more than 24 hours.
Late Monday night, the story started to change.
|Photo: The Mendocino Beacon|
|Matt Coleman, 45, was well known to the community for his longtime dedicated work for the Mendocino Land Trust|
Mendocino county sheriff’s Capt. Kurt Smallcomb issued a statement that Mr. Melo and another gentleman were on their way to investigate a marijuana grow when they happened upon a poppy field being watched over by a known local wacko, Aaron Bassler, 35. At that point, without provocation, Bassler opened fire; hitting Mr. Melo and wounding the other gentleman.
Mr. Melo’s co-worker was able to flag down the passing Skunk Train, the small railroad line that services the interior of the Mendocino’s coast, for help.
After that, SWAT was dispatched and a manhunt began.
Aaron Bassler, as of this writing, is still on the loose and considered armed and dangerous.
I spoke to a few growers on Monday during the day before information became clearer. The sadness was overwhelming. From early July to the end of August, Mendocino had been overrun by some 400 federal agents in the area for Operation Full Court Press.
There’s been a heightened sense of a paranoia for the growers. I’m speaking of the legitimate growers who are involved with either Mendo’s 9.31 program or growing legally under 215 that allows for an individual to grow up to 25 plants with a medical marijuana card.
“Everyone thinks Mendocino is so pot-friendly,” said one legitimate grower off the record. “They have no idea how hated some of the growers are by locals…and police. We’ve been trying to change the image of growers…when it’s reported that someone is shot by a marijuana grower… Then we’re all lumped into one basket.”
Another concerned legal grower voiced, “This is just weeks after Matt Coleman was shot and killed while doing some work in the forest too.” Matt Coleman, another beloved local who only did good work for his town and the forest he loved, was shot, some believe, when Matt came upon a grow while working.
“But there’s no proof that he was killed by someone growing marijuana. It is just what people are speculating,” said a Mendocino resident and grower.
I spoke to a grower late Monday for his opinion.
“When Operation Full Court Press was in town, they don’t want the grower’s help or assistance. We could point to where there are people growing in our forests. We don’t support two to three hundred plant grows. We want organize crime out of our forests, just like everyone else. But they don’t want our help. They want to keep the war on drugs happening,” my source said angrily.
“Jere Melo was murdered. Matt Coleman too. They were murdered by gangsters. There are gangster grows out there. We’re not part of that. I just wish people could see that,” my source muttered over the choppy cell phone connection. “When that Arizona congresswoman was shot, didn’t anything change with gun laws? Never. But you can have people say that two men were shot and killed because of marijuana…and that’s it. No retraction. People are going to think that both of them were killed by growers. Leaving it at that…”
My friends who grow legitimately, would have no problem if ‘trespass grows’ were to go away. Trespass grows being marijuana gardens or grows that operate without permission on other people’s land. Over 120 growers have come forward to be part of Mendocino’s progressive and so far successful 9.31 program that allows growers to cultivate up to 99 plants with a permit.
The tragedy of these two shootings will reverberate on the Coast and in these small towns and woods in Mendocino for years to come. It’s horrific and incredibly sad that two men who loved the forest and who did so much for their communities, would be cut down by madmen who perversely live while such admired men lay dead.
At the same time, the pressures of prohibition and the times of grey markets, makes the future uncertain for many who are trying to do the right thing by their towns and law enforcement.
When major news outlets report that local heroes are gunned down when they accidently come upon marijuana gardens, and it’s not true, it only heightens the paranoia that the local grower feels.
“This is only sad. We can’t say anything because we barely have a say in what’s happening now,” my source lamented. “I knew Matt Coleman. He was a really good dude. I heard Melo did a lot for Ft. Bragg and the residents. I just wish I could tell the marijuana haters, we’re on your side. This isn’t us. Both of these guys were killed by murderers. People who would kill whether it was because of weed or maybe a fight over a girl. These are deranged psychos. They’re not us…”
At this time, Matt Coleman murder goes unsolved and as stated above, Aaron Bassler is being sought by law enforcement.