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California

SWAT sniper justified in killing Northern California pot-grower, D.A. says

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea, center, speaks during a 2016 press conference. Prosecutors decided this week that one of Honea’s deputies was justified in the fatal shooting of an anti-government extremist earlier this year.
(Associated Press)

Prosecutors say a SWAT sniper with the Butte County Sheriff’s Department acted in self-defense when he shot and killed an armed pot grower who told officers they “better bring body bags” if they came to his property earlier this year, according to findings made public this week.

In a 12-page memorandum, Butte County Dist. Atty. Michael Ramsey determined the sheriff’s SWAT deputy was justified in shooting 56-year-old Mark Jensen during an August clash that drew a SWAT team and an armored vehicle to Jensen’s property in Durham, south of Chico.

Jensen became enraged on Aug. 21 after a code enforcement officer left a note on his door regarding a possible violation of ordinances governing marijuana growth, according to the district attorney’s report. Jensen responded by calling the officer’s cellphone and “left 10 threatening and profane voicemail messages.”

The threats were reported to the Sheriff’s Department the next day, and a deputy called Jensen, who responded by making a litany of threatening calls to the sheriff’s dispatch center and local officials, according to the memorandum.

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“Send your dogs over here, they will all leave in body bags,” Jensen said in a message to Butte County Supervisor Steve Lambert, according to the report.

Deputies were planning to arrest Jensen for threatening a public official when they received a panicked phone call from a woman who had pulled to the side of the road near Jensen’s home. Jensen struck her car with something, then pointed a rifle at her and demanded she leave his property.

Sheriff’s deputies quickly responded to the scene, prompting a nearly three-hour standoff between Jensen and responding officers from the Sheriff’s Department and the California Highway Patrol. A SWAT unit, including a surveillance-sniper team, and an armored vehicle were all called to the scene, according to the report.

SWAT Deputy Matt Calkins was tracking Jensen’s movements through a rifle scope, according to the report, when Jensen noticed him and pointed a handgun at the deputy. Calkins fired one shot at Jensen, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

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Attempts to contact Jensen’s relatives were unsuccessful Tuesday. But Jensen’s wife told investigators that he was “in a highly agitated frame of mind the day before, and the day of, his death,” according to the report. Jensen had been experiencing “dark moods” in the weeks prior to the shooting.

Hours before the incident, Jensen had taken two pistols and a rifle out to his porch, his wife told investigators. He had also become incensed at both government officials and “the media” in recent weeks, and the notice about the violation of the marijuana ordinance left him furious, she said, according to the report.

Jensen had been growing marijuana for years, both for recreational use and to medicate his autistic daughter, the report said.

Megan McCann, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Department, said she did not believe the agency had prior contacts with Jensen. He had previously run against Lambert for a seat on the county’s Board of Supervisors, McCann said.

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james.queally@latimes.com

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for crime and police news in California.


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