FBI agents descended in large numbers on Trinity Pines and Hayfork on Wednesday last week to search properties as part of a nationwide investigation, the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office said.
The July 24 raids started early in the morning. Trinity Pines residents reported helicopters flew over the area for hours.
In Hayfork, the door to the Khw Asian Trinity Store on Main Street was forced open and a flash-bang grenade set off inside. A flash-bang is described as a non-lethal device used to disorient or stun. Persons associated with the market told the Journal that the entry into the store was a mistake.
The FBI office in Sacramento responded to questions with the following: “At this time, we are not able to provide additional details regarding the FBI warrant search operation July 24 in Hayfork and Trinity Pines.”
The Trinity County Sheriff’s Office did release brief information that FBI agents had served numerous search warrants in Hayfork and the Trinity Pines area.
“These warrants were as a result of a nationwide investigation into organized crime affiliations,” the Sheriff’s Office said, adding that Sheriff’s Office personnel assisted with abatement of illegally cultivated cannabis as a result of the warrants.
Sheriff Tim Saxon said the FBI operation was conducted with his knowledge and support. Any further questions about the federal investigation were referred to the FBI.
Hayfork and Trinity Pines residents shared what they saw and felt about the July 24 searches.
A note and phone number were posted on the door of the Asian store. The owner, Madelyn Vue, had her husband, Howard Vang, speak to the Journal on Monday.
He said no one was at the business when the FBI agents burst in, but he talked to an agent later who said they had made a mistake breaking into the store. The search warrant was actually for the adjoining business which had been vacant for some time, Vang said.
He added that he was sent a claim form for damages. Because the flash-bang was set off, clearance from Trinity County Environmental Health will be needed to re-open, he said.
In Trinity Pines, Gary Carpenter said he was woken at 5:30 a.m. by his trailer shaking, and “a Blackhawk landed a couple hundred yards from my house.”
Another helicopter also arrived.
“It got real active out here,” Carpenter said. “I started seeing people leaving. My neighbors took off.”
Another Pines resident, Chellissa Van Leeuwen, said she had dogs and kids “going crazy” as a helicopter circled for hours. Regarding the community reaction, Van Leeuwen said being on a large property she doesn’t talk much to her neighbors, and “I have nothing to hide.”
The flash-bang entrance into the Asian market concerned one Hayfork woman who works nearby, although she was not at work at the time of the raid.
“It doesn’t need to be a public spectacle,” she said.
Jack Heard, who works at the Trinity County Fair Office, said he arrived at work about 8:30 a.m. to see 70 cars associated with the raids in the parking lot. He heard there were many more earlier in the morning.
Heard said it’s the biggest turnout for a raid he’s seen in the area “by far,” adding that usually it’s just the parking lot by the library that’s filled.
Several residents told the Journal they support law enforcement action as long as it was going after people who aren’t trying to comply with the law.
“If it was an illegal grow I’m much in favor of taking those down so at least the legitimate ones following the rules can survive,” Bob Mountjoy said.
Others like Aaron Foust had questions. What did they seize? Was anyone arrested?
Foust said, “If they’re going to come out here they ought to at least say.”