A federal grand jury this week indicted four men arrested in connection with the October death of an El Dorado County sheriff’s deputy.
Christopher Garry Ross, 47, of Somerset; Juan Carlos Vasquez, 20, and Ramiro Bravo Morales, 22, both Mexican nationals; and Jorge Lamas, 25, of Yuba City, were charged with conspiracy to grow marijuana, and discharge of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking offense, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Three years after the voters of California approved legal marijuana, the black market in this state is alive and well and thriving,” U.S. Atty. McGregor Scott said at a Thursday media briefing. “This prosecution is part of our efforts to keep our communities safe from this threat.”
Deputy Brian Ishmael was responding to a report of theft from a marijuana garden at a private residence in the Sierra Nevada foothills community of Somerset on Oct. 23. When Ishmael arrived, he and an off-duty San Joaquin County sheriff’s deputy were immediately met with gunfire. Ishmael was fatally wounded.
Ross is believed to have occupied the property and allowed marijuana to be grown there in return for cash, Scott said. Vasquez and Morales were tasked with tending the plants and guarding the grow site, and Lamas allegedly ran the grow and at least one other in the county “and took orders from a man in Mexico,” Scott said.
Scott blamed California’s sanctuary state laws for complicating the investigation. Because of limits on working with immigration authorities, he said, it took two days to determine the identities of Vasquez and Morales, who are in the country illegally.
The federal prosecutor spoke with state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra to receive guidance on working within the constraints of Senate Bill 54, which provides expanded protection for immigrants who have entered the country illegally.
“We shouldn’t have to go through these hurdles to try and figure out who two guys are from Mexico who just killed a deputy sheriff,” Scott said.
El Dorado County Sheriff John D’Agostini asked that law enforcement be given the ability to contact and work with federal partners in cases such as this.
“Sheriffs and [police] chiefs in the state do not and have no interest in carrying out federal immigration duties,” D’Agostini said. “But when we come across anyone who is breaking our laws and victimizing our residents then we need to hold them as accountable as everyone, regardless of their immigration status.”