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Deputy acted in self-defense when he shot Butte County marijuana grower, report says

A Butte County sheriff’s deputy acted in self-defense when he fatally shot a man who had threatened county code enforcement officers and brandished a gun at a motorist, according to a report issued by the Butte County District Attorney’s Office.

The report on the investigation into the Aug. 22 shooting of 56-year-old Mark Aaron Jensen outside his home in the 1900 block of Durham-Dayton Highway was released Monday.

According to the report, Jensen had made numerous threatening phone calls to a code enforcement officer as well as a member of the Butte County Board of Supervisors after he was issued a notice that the outdoor marijuana garden on his property violated county ordinances regulating marijuana growing operations.

On Aug. 21, code enforcement officers responded to a complaint that was received via the county’s confidential website, reporting 12 to 20 marijuana plants over 6 feet growing in Jensen’s backyard. They determined that Jensen’s property was approximately a quarter acre. Under county ordinances, outdoor marijuana growing is not allowed on parcels less than a half-acre in size, according to the report, and plants must be concealed behind fencing. In addition, marijuana cultivation is not allowed within 1,000 feet of a park, and Jensen’s residence is approximately 680 feet from Durham Park.

On Aug. 22, code enforcement officers went to the home. No one answered the door, so they left a violation notice titled “72-Hour Notice to Abate Ordinance Violation” taped to the front door, along with a business card with the work cell phone number of one of the officers.

Jensen and his wife returned that afternoon, saw the notice and removed the marijuana plants, the report says.

About 7 p.m., Jensen called Butte County Supervisor Steve Lambert and told the supervisor that if he sent “his dogs” for Jensen, “they better bring body bags,” the report says.

Jensen subsequently left a series of obscene and threatening messages for the code enforcement officer throughout the evening and again the next morning, He reportedly repeated the threats when he reached the code enforcement officer, when he contacted the front desk of the Development Services Department and in calls to the sheriff’s emergency dispatch line on Aug. 22.

That afternoon, following a Board of Supervisors meeting, Lambert checked his voice mail and found vulgar, threatening messages left by Jensen during the early morning hours.

Lambert called Jensen’s number and Jensen’s wife answered the phone. She told Lambert that Jensen was sitting on the front porch of their residence holding a rifle. She handed the phone to Jensen, who told Lambert to “send your dogs over here, they will leave in body bags,” and then hung up, the report says.

Lambert reported the information to the Sheriff’s Department and, on Lambert’s advice, Jensen’s wife left the home with the couple’s 26-year-old daughter, who is autistic, according to the report.

Detectives, who had obtained an arrest warrant for Jensen, met with Jensen’s wife, who told them her husband held anti-government views and had recently been in a “dark downward spiral.” She said they had grown marijuana for a number of years, without a medical recommendation, and had used it for recreational purposes and to treat their daughter, the report says. She also told them that her husband was sitting on the front porch with his Glock semi-automatic pistol, her .22 caliber pistol and a rifle.

As deputies worked to gather more information, Deputy Matt Calkins, a 10-year veteran of the department, drove an unmarked vehicle by the residence. He could see a man matching Jensen’s description sitting on the porch, but because of a large hedge in front of the house, he could not tell whether Jensen was armed.

As plans were being made to surround the house and watch Jensen, the Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call from a woman who reported she was driving on Durham-Dayton Highway, when she pulled off the road to respond to a text message. She said she had her head down texting when she heard a loud bang on the passenger side of her car. She looked up and saw a man, who matched Jensen’s description, about 10 feet away in the driveway of the residence, holding a gun in both hands and aiming it directly at her. He yelled at her to, “Get off my property,” the report says.

“Sheriff’s deputies said this assault upon this random citizen immediately changed their low-key containment approach as it appeared Jensen was now acting on his threats and was an imminent public safety threat to the surrounding neighborhood,” the report states.

SWAT officers and a crisis negotiation team were called to help deal with the situation. Shortly after 6 p.m., a SWAT sniper-surveillance team consisting of Calkins and Sgt. Jack Storne set up an observation site under a walnut tree about 128 yards east of Jensen’s residence. SWAT officers watched Jensen’s movements in the house and yard for about 90 minutes.

About 7:28 p.m., the report says, Jensen walked out into the center of the highway and waved a black semi-automatic handgun in a challenging manner above his head. At the time, sheriff’s and CHP vehicles could be seen blocking the highway about a third of a mile away.

As Calkins, who was in a prone position under the tree, shifted to keep Jensen in sight, Jensen apparently spotted the movement, raised his right hand and pointed the gun at the deputy’s position. Fearing that Jensen was going to fire at him and his sergeant, Calkins fired at Jensen, striking him in the chest, the report says.

SWAT members found Jensen face down in the street with his arms under his chest, and a pistol in his right hand, with his finger on the trigger, the report says.

A “moderate” amount of marijuana was found in Jensen’s blood, according to the report, and he had a 0.22 percent blood alcohol level.

“A finding of criminal liability on the part of Deputy Calkins could only be found if there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt the deputy’s belief that he and Sgt. Storne were in imminent danger of great bodily harm was unreasonable, “ the report concludes. “Given Jensen’s angry threats, assaultive conduct on the motorist, threatening conduct on the street and pointing his gun at Deputy Calkins, any conclusion Deputy Calkins’ belief was unreasonable would not be sustainable.”

A copy of the report, signed by District Attorney Michael L. Ramsey, is available on the District Attorney’s Office website, https://www.buttecounty.net/da/Jensen%20main.htm.

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy

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