Calif. officers raid home, find 4,475 pot plants

By Henry K. Lee and Jill Tucker
The San Francisco Chronicle

OAKLAND, Calif. Police and federal drug agents raided a newly built East Oakland home that had been converted into an indoor marijuana farm, with more than 4,000 plants filling every room of the two-story home, authorities said Tuesday.

No arrests were made, and the investigation is continuing into who grew and maintained the plants with an estimated street value of $3.5 million, authorities said.

Police responded to the home at 10320 Pearmain St. about 4:30 p.m. Monday to check on a resident's well-being because of a report that the garage door had been left open, authorities said. Officers saw marijuana plants growing in the garage, they said.

Police contacted an Oakland officer assigned to a Drug Enforcement Administration task force in Oakland. The officer then obtained a state search warrant for the home, authorities said.

The search yielded 4,475 marijuana plants growing throughout the house, authorities said. Windows were covered with wallboard, electricity was bypassed for growing purposes, and there was a sophisticated ventilation system inside, said Special Agent Casey McEnry, DEA spokeswoman in San Francisco.

The butter-yellow home has a two-car garage, a bay window on the second floor and detailed white columns. Several people who live and work in the industrial area said the gated house seemed out of place.

Elenes Rosario, who lives next door, said the man who built the home about a year ago would occasionally drive up on weekends in a van with tinted windows. The gate would open, the van would pull into the driveway and the gate would close, Rosario said. A Mercedes-Benz sat in the driveway Tuesday with a flat tire. That car rarely moved, Rosario said. 

Copyright 2007 San Francisco Chronicle

Note from Ken Wallentine, P1 Legal Columnist

Thermal imaging warrant requires reasonable suspicion, not probable cause

A CI reported that he had seen a basement marijuana cultivation operation in Kattaria’s home two years prior (pretty stale info).  An investigator found that Kattaria had two prior convictions for marijuana crimes and that Kattaria’s recent home power consumption was well over twice that of the highest consumption of his immediate neighbors, and 300 times high than one of his neighbors.  With that information, the investigator obtained a warrant for fly-over thermal imaging.  In Kyllo v United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001), the Supreme Court held that warrantless thermal imaging violated the Fourth Amendment.  However, the Court did not establish the threshold standard for obtaining a warrant.

The Court of Appeals determined that the appropriate standard for obtaining a warrant for non-intrusive thermal imaging of a residence is the Terry standard of reasonable suspicion, and not probable cause.  The court balanced “the importance of the governmental interest at stake, the minimal intrusion of a brief stop, and the absence of practical alternatives.”  The court noted that thermal imaging was not only non-intrusive, but served to help confirm suspicions of illegal activity before a more intrusive search of the home.  United States v. Kattaria, --- F.3d ----, 2007 WL 2892027 (8th Cir. 2007).

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