Sunday, December 11, 2005

Homeowner protests DEA action in Ukiah

Homeowner protests DEA action in Ukiah : "

By SETH FREEDLAND/The Daily Journal

Six federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents invaded a Ukiah resident's home Friday, threatened him with an automatic gun and searched the residence without producing documentation, the resident said.

Clay Young said he was working on the home he is building on his Running Springs Ranch property off Orr Springs Road when he realized six men had entered the structure without knocking and were pointing automatic weapons at him.

'It intimidated the bejesus out of me,' Young said. 'I said, Don't point that thing at me.' I was scared.'

The men did not produce a search warrant or any identification, aside from the letters 'DEA' on their jackets, Young said. After requesting his ID, Young added, they asked to walk through his house without providing cause.

After the search, the six men thanked Young -- who later said he was glad his wife and 3-year-old daughter were not home -- for his cooperation and drove off in an unmarked black pickup, he said.

Within an hour, Young called the county Sheriff's Office and left a message with a dispatcher. Sgt. Greg Van Patten returned the phone call and told Young the men were legitimate DEA agents and that Van Patten had provided backup from a few miles away, both men said.

Van Patten said the agents were simply 'in the general area looking for information' and that it is not uncommon in rural areas to ask local residents for aid.

'His story is different (from the agents' perspective), a lot more extreme,' Van Patten said. '(The agents) said they introduced themselves, had their guns up but weren't pointing them at him, weren't hitting the house. They didn't serve a search warrant because they were just following up on some information about the larger area.'

Bob Nishiyama, commander of the county's Major Crimes Task Force, said he knew of Friday's federal investigation in Ukiah, but diverted all questions to the DEA's San Francisco branch. Messages left there were not returned by press-time.

Young said he will soon make contact with Sheriff Tony Craver and District Attorney Norm Vroman about what he sees as an infringement of his civil rights.

'My feeling is that everyone makes mistakes and that's fine,' Young said. 'But in my opinion, they crossed a do-not-cross line with an automatic gun pointed at me. They entered my house without permission or a warrant and then did not provide documentation. That's not OK.'

Hours later, Craver said he had not yet heard of the incident but that Young's version of the events 'sounds not quite right,' saying he was 'astonished they didn't produce identification' or a warrant. But he noted that the DEA has concurrent jurisdiction with the county on matters of controlled substance and thus retains the right to enter the county.

'He needs to contact the DEA or the U.S. Attorney's Office and complain to them,' Craver said. 'I have no control over (DEA agents). I get angry when there's misconduct. If he feels he was wronged, if their procedures were improper, if his civil rights were violated, he has a right under the law to call and lodge complaint.'

Craver added that he would look into the events Monday morning.

Michael Sweeney, president of Running Springs Road's neighborhood group, said Young's ordeal was no small matter.

'This could have been anyone,' Sweeney said. 'Either you need a warrant to enter someone's home or you don't. There's a way in which to enter and not threaten the occupants. Not many people would be willing to stand up against this. Clay Young happens to be a guy who will.'

Seth Freedland can be reached at ."

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