By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff
One suspect fled and another was taken into federal custody when law enforcement raided an illegal marijuana grow on public land near Redstone on Sept. 28, according to a criminal complaint filed in United States District Court.
The complaint provides an affidavit by a special agent for the United States Forest Service for the events leading up to the arrest of Fernando Esquivel Herrera, 25 or 26.
According to the affidavit, the grow was discovered by an anonymous civilian near the apparent remnants of a smaller, older grow sight above the former Placita townsite on Sept. 1. The Forest Service checked out the tip on Sept. 4, and “clearly recognized what appeared to be several thousand marijuana plants” as well as a “male suspect with short hair bending over repeatedly within the marijuana garden.”
A search warrant was issued for the location on Sept. 25, and law enforcement from multiple jurisdictions executed the warrant on Sept. 28. According to the affidavit, they encountered mostly harvested marijuana, some trimmed and drying and several trash bags worth of already dried and packaged buds. Roughly two acres of land had been cleared of brush with trees de-limbed or cut for the garden, with a total of around eight acres impacted by infrastructure ranging from a water reservoir and hose system to kitchen camps and sleeping areas.
It was in the latter that agents heard voices and encountered two men. A taser was used on the the man later identified as Herrera — although the probes apparently didn’t contact his skin — while the other took off running up a hill into brush. No other suspects were apprehended, although at least seven sleeping bags were discovered in the area. The affiant reported observing an array of foodstuffs, the rack of a recently killed buck deer and a bag of dead minks.
Herrera, he wrote, smelled heavily of marijuana, had dirt all over his hands and wore pants covered in a sticky substance suspected to be THC. He is charged with conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 1,000 marijuana plants. If convicted, he will face 10 years to life in prison and/or a $10 million fine.