Editor’s note: The Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday afternoon released the names of those involved in the incident outlined in this story. The victim in the murder case in Mariposa County is Abel Alvarez, 44, of Modesto. The suspect, who has been charged with murder, is Miguel Alcazar, 50, also known as Marco Jimenez, of Modesto, who is now in custody at the Mariposa County Jail. We will continue to follow this story and have updates as it develops.
What appeared to begin as an argument over drug money turned into a murder case this past weekend in Mariposa County.
The incident unfolded on Saturday, July 10, at around 7:30 p.m. “way down” Stumpfield Mountain Road, according to Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese. That rural mountain road begins along Highway 49 South in Mariposa County and eventually connects to another road in Madera County.
“We received a call about a victim with a gunshot wound,” said Briese.
Deputies were immediately dispatched to the scene and they met the victim “and witnesses” who were in a car on Stumpfield Mountain Road apparently heading to get medical help.
Briese said deputies performed CPR on the victim but to no avail. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene on the road.
At this point in time, Briese said officials are not releasing the names of those involved because the information is muddled and for other reasons.
The incident took place at an illegal marijuana grow, said Briese. He said there were “multiple shots” fired by both the victim and the suspect in the case. The suspect was firing a shotgun, he said, and the victim had an “AR type” rifle.
The shooter left the scene, he said, and fled to the Fresno area where he checked himself into a hospital with a gunshot wound. The sheriff said the suspect had at least one bullet wound in the chest and at first, another person at the scene thought they had been shot. However, it turned out that person only had blood on their clothes from driving the victim to Fresno.
The victim was shot at least one time in the upper left back, said Briese, who added he did not know if there were multiple gunshot wounds.
Once the suspect was in Fresno, officers from the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office and Fresno law enforcement officials became involved. The crimes scene was processed and a local detective was immediately dispatched to the hospital and “confirmed the shootout.”
The suspect, who has been charged with murder, remained in the hospital as of Tuesday morning and Briese said they are “waiting for him to get out” before they can transport him to the jail in Mariposa where he will be booked and formally charged with murder. The suspect is under 24-hour security, said Briese.
He said that will happen “as soon as he is cleared from the medical facility.”
Once that happens, the case will be turned over to the Mariposa County District Attorney Walter Wall for prosecution.
One of the reasons Briese has not released the names of those involved, he said, is because of “language barriers.”
The sheriff’s office is working with the Mexican Consulate’s office and Briese said he believes both are Mexican nationals, though that has not been confirmed.
He said the deceased man “may have been previously arrested in another county” and they are following that lead, as well. He also said they are trying to make arrangements for family members in Mexico to come to Mariposa County, which includes getting visas and more.
Briese said the investigation, so far, has determined both of the men involved were “inside a marijuana grow” and the dispute was “possibly over money,” though those details are still being ironed out by investigators.
He said there were three “makeshift” greenhouses on the property and added much of the marijuana “had already been processed.”
Briese added that “five to six” people were at the scene, though that, too, is still to be exactly determined.
The incident, said Briese, puts into the spotlight the issue of marijuana grows which are operated by “drug trafficking organizations,” or DTOs.
In many cases, Briese said the individuals involved are illegal aliens and their identities are “unknown.”
That’s where it gets complicated, he said, because it is hard to determine identifications.
“The process of tracking down individuals is hard,” said Briese.
The sheriff also said large grows are becoming more prevalent not just in Mariposa County but “all across California.”
Why that is happening he is not sure, but Briese said he has spoken with many sheriffs around the state and all are having the same issues with illegal grows. Some are more sophisticated, he said, but others, like the one on Stumpfield Mountain Road, are crude with basically “sticks and tarps.”
Briese did say the sheriff’s office has “been successful” in getting people in custody, however, many are released quickly because of the marijuana laws now on the books in the state. In many cases, growing is considered a misdemeanor.
He also said decisions have to be made as to which types of grows officers should concentrate on, and that is not easy. Some illegal grows are simply people who are growing more than six plants, which is legal to do in California.
He said two weeks ago, the sheriff’s office eradicated 4,500 plants from an illegal grow site and arrested three people, all who were armed.
When weapons are involved, he said they can utilize other laws in order to put more teeth into charges.
“We have gotten a lot of arrests,” said Briese.
As to why more grows are cropping up in the state, the sheriff isn’t sure.
“It seems to be a new trend,” said Briese, who called it the “shotgun effect.”
Some grows are becoming larger in size, he said, and many of the operatives are utilizing undocumented people to run the operations.
He also wonders if it is a “numbers game” by the crime operators, saying even if some of the undocumented people are jailed, there are more who can fill in and take over the operations, or just move to another location.
For Briese, trying to sort out the large grows from the more common grows is a challenge, especially with the budget cuts which have been experienced during the pandemic.
“Staffing puts us in a bind,” said Briese. “We can’t assign a 20-person team.”
He called the issue “a juggle,” and emphasized his department is going to “continue to hit it hard.”
But, he said, trying to get them all is nearly impossible because the staffing levels.
“The Covid (budget) reduction really hurt us,” said Briese.
The case remains under investigation and more details will be released when available, he said.