During a dawn raid on an illegal marijuana grow east of Mt. Wilson on Sept. 22, one person was captured and three others escaped. However, County Sheriff Kerry Lee said all three surrendered within 36 hours to private citizens rather than having to spend any more time in the open and freezing nighttime conditions.

“But,” he said, “due to lack of probable cause, the three men had to be released when their families came to pick them up at the Lincoln County Detention Center. But we did take fingerprints and photos, plus other evidence.”

Since September, Lee said, arrest warrants for the three had been being prepared by the BLM, U.S. Forest Service, and Eastern Nevada Drug Task Force. “I don’t know if the warrants are in hand right now, but they are working on that.”

He said the raid, a coordinated operation by several combined agencies, netted between 5,500 to 6,000 plants with an estimated street value of $17 million, plus equipment for processing and packaging the marijuana.

Juan Cruz Hernandez, 24, of Santa Maria, California was arrested at the scene. He has since been taken to the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas to face federal charges.

Lee said he is hoping felony warrants will be issued in the western U.S. for the three who were released. All are believed to be California residents. “Even if they do try to cross state borders, even the U.S – Mexican border, the warrants could still be enforced.”

More information on probable cause has been sought since their release and Lee said quite a bit more has been obtained, including one man who was identified from a photograph taken by the helicopter used in the search for the men by the National Guard.

“We’ll have to wait and see if the judge feels there is enough evidence of probable cause to issue the warrants.”  

He said the information might by be taken to the 7th Judicial District Court, or maybe even federal court in Las Vegas.

“Once everything is put together,” Lee said, “we’ll see if that is enough to have arrest warrants issued. We wanted to arrest them after they were brought to the Detention Center at the time, but knew that we didn’t have enough evidence to legally hold them without further probable cause, according to the law.”

He added, “I’d love to see them arrested and brought back for trial. Maybe it would deter some in the future, should there be any.”