An alleged dispute at a Rastafarian church in Yuba County led to a shootout Tuesday morning as two sheriff’s deputies exchanged gunfire with a suspect inside a Dobbins-area home. The suspect was killed. The deputies suffered bullet wounds but are expected to recover.
The ordeal, which brought dozens of law enforcement officers from across the region, began after 8 a.m. on the 9000 block of Marysville Road, between the rural communities of Oregon House and Dobbins northeast of Yuba City.
Yuba County Sheriff Steve L. Durfor told reporters at a news conference Tuesday afternoon that two deputies responded to a report of a dispute involving someone destroying marijuana plants at a local growing operation.
The head of the church, Heidi Grossman-Lepp, called 911 to report that the man had become violent with a fellow church member, her attorney, Joseph Tully, told The Sacramento Bee in an interview Tuesday afternoon.
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The man had been staying either on the church property or nearby and was tending the marijuana in exchange for room and board and nominal wages. Tully described him as a “trimmigrant,” the nickname for the seasonal workers who travel from grow to grow during the marijuana-harvest season.
“She told them (during her 911 call) to be careful; he was acting violently and had a gun,” Tully said.
When the deputies arrived, they chased the man to a nearby home. The homeowner gave them permission to go inside to make sure the suspect wasn’t hiding in the house. Inside, they were fired upon and hit, and they shot back, Durfor said.
A third deputy pulled them out as a swarm of law enforcement officers from across the region converged on the deputies’ calls of “officer down.” They shot canisters of tear gas into the home, but no one came out. Deputies eventually used a remote-controlled robot with a camera to determine that the suspect had died inside the house.
A helicopter ambulance transported the deputies to Sutter Roseville Medical Center, where they underwent surgeries. Both were talking and alert, and their doctors say they’re doing well and should recover, Durfor said.
One deputy, a 14-year veteran with the department, was struck at least twice in the pelvic area and thigh. The other deputy – a 10-year veteran – suffered at least one bullet wound to the arm.
Durfor declined to provide their identities or more details about the case. He also did not release the identity of the suspect.
“They went up there. They did their job, and they took care of business,” Durfor told reporters.
Durfor said it appears likely that the deputies shot the suspect, instead of the man dying from a self-inflicted wound. The coroner’s office will issue a final cause of death.
In a news release issued Tuesday night, the Sheriff’s Office said detectives were investigating the suspect’s identity and any relationship to the property where the shooting occurred. He was described as Hispanic, likely in his early 30s, with a large stature.
At the news conference, Durfor said he couldn’t confirm whether the incident occurred at a church.
Tully, the attorney, said the Rastafarian church has a good relationship with law enforcement officers in the area.
“They had no problem calling the authorities, because they were having a problem there,” Tully said. “They have a very open-door relationship.”