Homeowner hit with $500,000 fine due to little-known Sacramento pot growth ordinance

A Sacramento property owner was hit with a $500,000 fine after his tenants purportedly violated a little-known local ordinance related to marijuana cultivation.

For more than a decade, Rodney Rose has rented out his North Sacramento home to a nice elderly couple with no problems — that is, until the couple decided to let their nephew move in.

The nephew began growing marijuana at the home without first getting a license from the City of Sacramento, and that’s when Rose ran into trouble.

SMUD, the utility company that serves the neighborhood where Rose’s tenants live, noticed a spike in electrical usage at the home in question. They tipped off local authorities, and the Sacramento Police Department raided the property.

What happened next came as a surprise to everyone involved.

“I was not made aware of this, until I received a bill in the mail, from the city of Sacramento, which I thought was a joke,” Rose told local TV station FOX40.

That bill was for $500,000, a fine the City of Sacramento said Rose owed for allowing an unlicensed marijuana cultivation operation to occur on his property.

Rose called city officials, but was told his window of opportunity to appeal the fine had closed. Eventually, he secured an extension of his time to appeal, but then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and city government all but shut down.

When things started to open back up, he was given a hearing via Zoom. An administrative judge ruled against him, saying homeowners could violate the ordinance as it was written at that time, even if they didn’t know about it.

That’s since changed, according to legal expert Mark Reichel, who told FOX40 News that city officials changed the law in late 2019 so that homeowners could invoke an affirmative defense that they didn’t know about marijuana growth on their property.

“Now, innocent owners can give proof that they were an innocent owner, that they didn’t know anything about this,” Reichel said, adding that the City of Sacramento’s ordinance is still one of the toughest in the state and that it generates a significant amount of revenue for the local government.

Rose is now taking his case to state court, where he hopes to dispose of the fine once and for all. He says the tenants he rented to are helping him in the process, and even told police that Rose had no knowledge of the growth operation.

“I knew nothing of this ordinance that the city has — I’m just shocked that’s how they wish to conduct their business,” he said.

Click or tap here to read more of this story on FOX40.com

The truth behind California’s new early-release policy for inmates

A new policy that could help some California inmates score an early release from prison is raising a lot of concerns, but legal experts say it’s not a wholesale get-out-of-jail-early card for them.

The policy, unveiled by state officials late last month, allows inmates housed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to earn more so-called “good time” credits that would make them eligible for early parole or release.

Under the old policy, inmates housed at CDCR prisons received one credit for every four days in custody, provided they do not experience any disciplinary issues while incarcerated.

Starting this month, inmates will receive one credit for every two days served, which has the potential to reduce their sentence by one-third.

The move impacts more than 70,000 inmates who are currently serving time for a variety of crimes, and would also apply to around 63,000 inmates who are in custody for so-called violent crimes.

The change in policy raised concerns among public safety officials who said it could lead to the state releasing thousands of inmates early.

But that’s not exactly what happens.

Being eligible for early release is not the same as getting early release, and inmates could still be denied release or parole based on factors unrelated to their good time credits.

“The people who have committed the most dangerous crimes, still don’t get out of prison, it just brings them to the [parole] board earlier,” Michael Romano, a Stanford law professor, told CBS13 News in an interview.

Individuals who do receive early release tend to be those who have demonstrated significant rehabilitation while in custody.

“You have a different person being released than the person that went in,” Sacramento legal expert Mark Reichel told CBS13.

Click or tap here to read more from CBS13 News Sacramento

Judge will face some pressure in crafting prison sentence for Derek Chauvin

A former Minneapolis police officer will be sentenced on his murder and manslaughter conviction in June, a Minnesota court affirmed last week.

The former officer, Derek Chauvin, was convicted earlier this month on two counts of murder and a separate manslaughter charge in connection with the 2020 death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man whom he arrested.

Chauvin was convicted by a Minnesota jury on April 20 following a two-week trial.

In an interview with CBS News on Sunday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said he felt it was appropriate for the judge “to not go light or heavy” when sentencing Chauvin to a possible prison term.

“I don’t know if it’s right for a judge to send a message through a sentence because the sentence should be tailored to the offense, tailored to the circumstances of the case,” Ellison told the news magazine program 60 Minutes.

Chauvin faces a maximum prison sentence of 40 years on the more-serious charge of second-degree murder. He was also convicted on third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Earlier in the week, Sacramento criminal defense attorney and legal expert Mark Reichel said the judge will have to consult Minnesota’s version of the sentencing guidelines, which help the judge determine an appropriate prison sentence in criminal cases.

“The judge takes the book out, and it actually has a presumption in cases like this of 12 and a half years,” Mark told FOX40 News. “The prosecution will ask the judge to go above the 12 and a half years, citing aggravated circumstances; the defense, of course, will ask the judge to go below the 12 and a half years.”

The worldwide attention the Chauvin trial received meant the judge will face significant pressure to sentence the former officer to a lengthier prison term than someone who would be in a similar set of circumstances without a high profile.

“He knows the whole world is watching,” Mark said. “Unlike the jurors, he’s not sequestered; unlike the jurors, he’s not prevented from watching…he’s obviously going to do his job to do justice.”

Mark said factors that could weigh on the judge’s determination include the presence of children at the scene where Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, which the prosecution strongly argued was a factor in the man’s death.

“[The prosecution] is probably going to ask the judge to go up to the [full sentence of] 40 years,” Mark said. “The defense doesn’t have a lot to say because they didn’t put much on.”

Chauvin’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 16 at 1:30 p.m. Central Time (11:30 a.m. Pacific Time).

Click or tap here to read more from FOX40 News in Sacramento

Sacramento man accused of leaving pipe bomb outside school re-arrested

A Sacramento man who was arrested and freed after police suspected him of leaving a pipe bomb near an elementary school was taken into custody once again following a court appearance this week.

Gustavo Aguilar, 57, was initially booked into Sacramento County jail after police accused him of leaving a pipe bomb and a home-made gun near an elementary school earlier this month.

Aguilar was freed on $25,000 bail, only to be re-arrested following a court appearance on Thursday, during which a judge agreed to increase the man’s bail to $150,000.

The bail was re-set after prosecutors with the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office claimed Aguilar was a flight risk and a danger to the community.

Aguilar is once again in county jail, but Sacramento criminal defense attorney and legal expert Mark Reichel says if he can find a bail bondsman willing to post his bail, he could be set free a second time while he awaits further criminal proceedings.

“If you have $150,000 bail, and you’ve got a bail bondsman willing to post it, you really just have to pay [the bondsman] their costs,” Mark told CBS13 News.

That fee usually works out to around 10 percent of the bail figure, Mark noted, which in this case would be $15,000.

As of Friday, it was not known if anyone had agreed to post Aguilar’s bail for a second time.

Prosecutors say they linked Aguilar to a pipe bomb that was placed outside of Ethel Baker Elementary School earlier this month after reviewing names and other writings on the device.

Click or tap here to read the full story from CBS13 News

Law covers Catholic school who expelled students after mom’s OnlyFans account surfaces

A Sacramento mother is heartbroken after her three sons were asked to leave a private Catholic school earlier this month following the discovery of the parent’s adult-themed social media account.

Crystal Jackson is a popular model on the website OnlyFans, an online platform where people can publish and sell uncensored photos and videos.

Like thousands of other people who use the platform, Jackson makes a decent living from visitors who are willing to subscribe to see the photos and videos she takes.

When word got out about her account, Jackson sent a letter to Theresa Sparks, the principle of Sacred Heart Parish School, a private Catholic institution for learning. Jackson said she didn’t intend for her accounts to create a distraction or besmirch the name of the school, and she and her husband offered to withdraw her three sons from the school if there were any problems, according to FOX40 News.

Earlier this month, Sparks sent a letter to Jackson informing her that the three children would no longer be welcome at Sacred Heart. In the letter, Sparks said the school tried their best to insulate the children from the effects of the account and the ensuing discussions that took place both online and offline, but that Jackson’s decision to not only continue her account and “promote it widely” was creating too much of a distraction for the school.

“We therefore request that you find another school for your children and have no further association with ours,” Sparks wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by FOX40 News. Sparks also said Jackson, her husband and her sons were not welcome on campus “for any reason.”

Mark Reichel, a legal expert retained by Jackson, said he feels the school is in the wrong, but said the California Education Code protects the private school when it comes to their decision-making in this case.

“There’s a contract that says, we reserve the right to disqualify your students — your children as students — if we think it violates something that we don’t like or is inconsistent with the mission of the school,” Reichel told FOX40 News.

In this case, Sacred Heart says the conduct of the parent violated a parent-student handbook that is issued when students are enrolled. That forms the basis of a contract between the parent and the school that governs acceptable behavior and other policies that all parties are expected to adhere to as a condition of allowing a child to attend school there.

In an interview with People Magazine, Jackson said she learned the school was updating the handbook to include a condition that requires parents to remove blogs, websites or social media accounts that go against the teachings of the school.

Click or tap here to read the full story from FOX40 News

Are license plate readers OK to use in private neighborhoods?

A Sacramento neighborhood has installed automated license plate readers in an effort to combat crime, but some are concerned the technology could interfere with the privacy of residents.

A homeowners’ association in a neighborhood known as The Hamptons confirmed the license plate readers will capture information about every car within the community, but the information won’t be transmitted to police automatically unless a crime is reported.

“It’s got a very narrow field of vision, so it’s not capturing the lady walking the dog in the park — it’s looking for a license plate,” Ed Perez, the president of the homeowners’ association, told CBS13 in an interview.

Sacramento attorney and legal expert Mark Reichel said the technology is fine to use, as long as it’s in a public space — not on private property — and as long as it’s not allowing law enforcement to compile wholesale databases of information.

“The police can know it exists, and you can use it in your neighborhood, and you can use it when there’s a crime — you just can’t send [wholesale data to the police] so they can keep compiling data,” Reichel said.

Some residents say the license plate readers are a good thing, a tool that will help prevent crime from happening where they live.

“Having these in the area, I think, will deter people from at least coming into our community to do that,” resident Amy Gidding-Mora said.

Click or tap here to read the full story from CBS13 Sacramento

Granite Bay mansion owner apologizes for party during COVID pandemic

The owner of a Granite Bay mansion has issued an apology after a New Year’s Eve party drew more attendees than he expected.

Gabriel Watters owns the mansion where hundreds of people attended a New Year’s Eve party last week. The party became a viral sensation after photos and videos from inside were posted to YouTube and SnapChat, which drew condemnation on other social media platforms after people began noticing many of the attendants weren’t wearing masks or social distancing.

The party has been deemed a “super spreader” event by critics, though there’s no evidence that anyone at the event had the novel coronavirus COVID-19 or contracted it in connection with the event.

Still, Watters said the party was supposed to be a small affair and quickly ballooned in size after word of the event spread on social media.

In a statement released through his attorney Mark Reichel, Watters apologized for the event and said he worked hard to end it once he learned about what was taking place at his mansion:

“Mr. Watters had invited close friends to a planned small gathering at the very large house for New Year’s Eve. The notoriety of the house caused those invited to broadcast the party and invitation across social media. He never intended for this event to be this big and he apologizes for how things got out of hand.”

At one point during the party, deputies with the Placer County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched following a noise complaint by a neighbor in the gated Los Lagos community. Deputies asked participants to turn down the music but did not make any arrests or citations. The sheriff’s office told a local newspaper that around 100 people were in attendance.

Placer County is part of the Sacramento area region, which is under a mandatory stay-at-home order issued by state health officials in early December. The order prohibits individuals from non-essential travel and in-person gatherings. The party as depicted in the videos and photos posted to social media would qualify as “non-essential” under the health order.

Click or tap here to read more at CBS13 Sacramento