A private security company clad in military-style uniforms has targeted illegal marijuana grows in Northern California, with its leader arguing that its operatives can override the Fourth Amendment while performing their contracted duties.
“It’s very clear in the penal code that citizens and private persons have an enormous amount of authority under the penal code and also sometimes even more authority where they’re not subject to the Fourth Amendment restrictions,” Lear Asset Management founder Paul Trouette told Talking Points Memo. “You can witness a felony or a misdemeanor or any public nuisance, in your presence, and you have the ability to affect that arrest. And go to the point where the use of force is equal to the force used in the person that you’re arresting.”
Trourette said he founded the company three years ago, the same year Fort Bragg city council member and former mayor Jere Melo was shot and killed after discovering opium poppies being grown by a transient on land owned by a timber company. Melo was reportedly investigating the growth on the timber company’s behalf at the time of his death.
“That’s when the hole began to be filled in my understanding of how to put together a cohesive, legal, organized private security firm that is now dealing with these types of issues,” Trouette told TPM.
However, Trouette’s firm’s operations have led to a relationship with Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman that Trouette described as “strained at times.”
Allman said that, while he did not want to “say anything negative” about Lear Asset’s operations, he did express concern over “friendly fire” should his officers and Trouette’s operatives be in the same area.
“Let me tell you what keeps me awake,” Allman was quoted as saying. “If a citizen calls up and says, ‘Listen, there’s men with long guns and camouflage green that look like policemen that are cutting my marijuana down.’ And my dispatcher goes, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s not us,’ what we’re going to do is we’re going to send cops with guns to this location where we think there’s a marijuana ripoff. Honestly, what could possibly go wrong here? A lot more things are going to go wrong than are going to go right.”
Trouette is also on the board of directors of the Jere Melo Foundation, a non-profit group that has released videos showing him and Lear operatives cleaning up illegal grows.
“We communicate to [growers], if they’re on private property, we announce that we’re on security,” Trouette says in the video. “And if they don’t speak English, it can get dicey at times.”
The group has also published a brochure showing Lear’s Asset operatives, many of them former law enforcement and military officials, in camouflage. The brochure also says it “works with” the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Bureau of Land Management, and state wildlife officials, among others.
However, Trouette told TPM that his organization only shares “intelligence” with those agencies.
“We don’t contract with them,” he said. “We work with them collaboratively.”
Watch the video, as posted online, below.