$5000 Reward in Home Invasion Case
Island Mountain Neighborhood Watch Group is offering a $5000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the people involved in the home invasion near New Harris on March 3. (See earlier stories here and here.) The recent search for multiple armed suspects terrified residents of the remote hills in southeastern Humboldt.
In the last month, according to the spokesperson for the Island Mountain Neighborhood Watch Group, there have been a spate of home invasions throughout Southern Humboldt that have gone unreported to law enforcement. The spokesperson said that members of his group “have spoke at length with the Sheriff’s deputies about our safety concerns with these types of incidents….This community is 100% behind law enforcement and getting these people off the streets. We’re very appreciate of the officers’ quick response to this event.”
Lt. Wayne Hanson said that other than Bret Swortzel who was arrested not far from the original incident and the son of the victim, Seth Morton, who is still at large and last seen in Garberville yesterday, he is unable to provide detailed descriptions of the three suspects who have yet to be captured.
Nonetheless, said the Island Mountain Neighborhood Watch Group (IMNWG) spokesperson, the community is hopeful that the perpetrators will all be found.
Humboldt County Deputy Tony Gomes is also hopeful though he pointed out that the reward is not sponsored by the Sheriff”s Office. However, he said, his department wants to work with the local residents. “The Sheriff’s Office’s main focus is in apprehending these violent criminals that are terrorizing citizens in remote areas,” he stated.
In much of rural Humboldt County, many residents grow marijuana. They fear that by contacting law enforcement they could jeopardize not only their income but also their freedom. Gomes acknowledged the situation but said, “We don’t want citizens to be in fear of us…People shouldn’t be afraid to call just because what was stolen was marijuana or money.”
The IMNWG plan to hold a community meeting soon and invite law enforcement. “We want to bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement,” said the spokesperson. “We have to stop thinking of them as the enemy.”
Gomes offered some suggestions to rural residents on how to “make sure they aren’t the victim of one these home invasion robberies.”
1. Do not be afraid to call the Sheriff’s Office. “People probably know who these subjects are but they are unwilling to come forward and tell us who they are and testify in court.,” Gomes said. “That makes our job a lot harder. Information can be vital in a case.”
2. Establish a neighborhood watch. “Keep an eye on the neighbor’s property,” he said.
3. Post addresses. “There are very few addresses [in rural areas,]” Gomes pointed out. “That can make it difficult to find people.”
4. Mark roads. Reaching the victim’s home, said Gomes, required driving on multiple branching roads–none marked. “I can’t imagine how our deputies found that place especially at the nighttime,” he said.
5. Be a good witness. “We’re not asking people to hop in their car and chase people down,” he said. “Just note down as many details as possible and then be willing to talk to us…We’re pretty limited on what kind of cases we can build without information.”
6. Everybody needs to trust everybody. “Law enforcement needs to trust the community,” he said. “The community needs to trust law enforcement.” He pointed out that during the aftermath of Tuesday’s home invasion, “We had a lot of help with this. A lot of citizens really stepped up. They were patrolling the roads and looking for the suspects.” However, he said, when the deputies would show up at the store, “everybody scatters.”
Gomes said that law enforcement needs to gather information and they can’t if people leave when they show up. ” We don’t want a relationship like that with the community…Marijuana is not our main goal. [The goal] is the safety of the community.”
Gomes said, “The people that are committing these home invasions are most likely the same group…If we can get them in custody, then we might stop this.” He urged residents who know anything about any of the recent home invasions to call law enforcement and let them help. “The community needs to step up and fight back and that is why they need to call us,” he said. “Information is power.”
If law enforcement knows crime is happening, said Gomes, they can help. He said that in response to some issues like the flurry of recent home invasions, if the Sheriff’s Office has enough information about what is happening this might lead them to put extra patrols in an area or set up a special task force.
Gomes said that the Island Mountain community is understandably anxious with four armed suspects last seen in their area. “Nobody should live in that type of fear,” he said. “That is our goal. We want safe communities for everyone.