HOGBACK, NM

After the San Juan River Farm Board decided on March 16 to revoke 32 land use permits because permit holders allowed illegal hemp / marijuana activities in their assigned areas, farmers held a press conference Tuesday to decipher what they are called Looking at “overreaction” and maintaining their innocence.

“I’m an old lady and had a farm … I’ve been a farmer for over 60 years,” said former Farm Board member Jean Jones. “People are trying to say that they are going to take our farm away. I don’t know why they say that. The Navajo Nation didn’t give it to us. “Jones and other farmers also spoke out against harassment from neighbors.

At one point, the elder Jones said those opposed to growing hemp / marijuana threatened to beat them and threw stones at them. “There are a lot of protesters walking around now,” said Jones. “You are trying to harass us. Every time I go out they ride by yelling at me, ‘Go to hell! ‘“

During the upheaval summer of 2020 in Shiprock, non-hemp-related protesters (or later marijuana according to authorities) clashed with those who were actively growing hemp / marijuana.

Farmers still claim that what was grown on their farms was just hemp, in which they said it was not illegal and the punishment they received was not fair. “Why is the Navajo Nation punishing farmers without incriminating them?” asked Farmer Sherrell Mesa. “The Navajo Nation prevents farmers from having the right to grow produce. Hemp is not an illegal substance under Navajo Law. There is no penalty for growing it.

“How do you know hemp was grown or not?” She asked. “The plants were never tested before they were killed. The Navajo Nation has exceeded its authority. “

Farmer Grace Chavez said on her understanding that they grow hemp, and like Mesa, she maintains that belief. She said her farm is in the back where it can’t be seen from the road and equipment was lost after it was shut down. “I can’t believe some of my friends and colleagues,” said Chavez.

“What they said, Racial Discrimination Against the Asian People on Facebook, the language was terrible,” she said. “I can’t believe our own President of the Navajo Nation, the Navajo Nation Council delegate, participated in these matters. “The Asians, I made friends with them,” said Chavez. “They are good people.”

Criticism of the police

Regarding the conduct of the Navajo Nation Police, every protester had criticisms and allegations against them and the investigations of the Federal Bureau, New Mexico State Police and the San Juan County Sheriff’s Department, particularly during the November raids. “The state police pointed an assault rifle at me and yelled something,” said farmer Terry Pettigrew of the day of the robbery as he tried to open his gates to authorities. “The whole time I was walking up to him (officer) and he was pointing his assault rifle at me,” he said. “I thought, ‘Is this the day I’ll be killed?’” Pettigrew said he was searched and handcuffed. He said they asked if he had a gun and he told them he didn’t.

This interaction traumatized him. Jacqueline Foster, who lives on a farm with her parents, said police aimed guns at her children and arrested their parents. Much like other farmers, Foster said the Navajo police would not help her in times of need or harassment from protesters.

“The cops are not going to help,” said Foster. “You keep going and still not helping. They say it’s our fault. It is not. We need help. I want to save the farm. “All of these farmers are good people,” she said. “You don’t deserve to be treated like that.”

Louise Pettigrew said Navajo police pointed a gun at her husband Terry when he opened the gate for officers to enter during the November raids. She said her family was handcuffed and made to stand outside in the cold. “I came out to see what was going on,” said Louise. “They had all their guns pointed at us like we were criminals. We are not criminals; We are good people. They left us outside … we were handcuffed. We didn’t do anything. These cops were really mean. “

During the press conference, farmers mentioned the wrongdoing and transgression by the government, leadership, police and other law enforcement agencies of the Navajo nation, but none mentioned the person behind the cultivation, Dineh Benally.

The Navajo Times reported that Benally may be on the Pine Ridge Reservation selling his marijuana ventures. During a meeting of the Oglala Sioux Council in January, the council voted to remove him from the reservation. Members of the tribe claim Benally was not removed and sent a photo showing Benally outside the administration building on the reservation.

The Navajo Times reached out to Benally and received it via email: “Thank you very much and I pray that the Navajo Times will be the best newspaper with the best reporters and staff. In the name of Jesus. In the name of Jesus. In the name of Jesus. In the name of Jesus. Amen.”

Court history

Police, however, said Benally’s farmers had given ample warnings to stop hemp production and that some had continued to farm. In June, the Navajo Nation filed a lawsuit against Benally to prevent him from “the illegal and unregulated growth, production, transportation, licensing and sales of industrial hemp within the Navajo Nation’s external borders”.

In September, Shiprock District Court issued an injunction and injunction against Benally and his companies, allowing the Navajo Police to cease operations and order workers to leave the company.

But the work went on. Navajo Police Officer Kyle Simms, assigned to the Shiprock area, stated in an affidavit to the Navajo Times in October that he and other officials contacted every hemp / cannabis farmer after the TRO and the restraining order and told them about the orders and that they would have to cease operations.

“In delivering these notices, we encountered many locked gates,” Simms stated in the affidavit, “which affected our ability to observe whether the hemp / cannabis operations were continuing.” Simms said they were denied access by Benally’s security guards, who told Simms they needed instructions from their “boss” before they could allow access to the hemp farms. Previous encounters with security have indicated that Simms understands “the boss” as Benally.

Two days after the TRO was issued and the restraining order was issued, Simms said he was involved in a DUI checkpoint near Hogback, New Mexico. He came into contact with a non-Navajo hemp farm worker who told Simms he was on his way to work on a hemp farm. “His manager at the farm was Dineh Benally and Mr. Benally had told him to continue working after the injunction and injunction were issued,” Simms said. “Mr. Benally texted many farmers on September 19th telling them to keep moving.”

In October, the nation filed an order to demonstrate what “basically is a civil penalty for violating a court order,” said Charles Galbraith, special adviser to the Navajo Nation, during a community meeting in October. “At the hearing, Benally could have been arrested for the ongoing violations,” he said. “She (Judge Genevieve Woody) has the power to punish or imprison him.

“She was ultimately unwilling to make a decision based on the submissions that day,” he said. “She continued that hearing and ordered the attorneys to submit additional briefings.”

The delay that day gave Benally more time to continue his operations.

Farmers, who continued to listen to Benally, were hit in November during what was known as Operation Navajo Gold, or the raid with the authorities that farmers mentioned. This operation was a unified effort to execute search warrants signed by a federal judge in connection with suspected illegal marijuana cultivation in the Navajo Nation.

Police estimated that there was 57,950 pounds of marijuana on the black market, valued at approximately $ 1.8 billion.

Expectations

Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco said officers would only point a gun at a person if there is a direct threat to their life or if the person has a gun.

He also said no formal complaints were filed in connection with the raid and encouraged those making claims to report them so they can be resolved. “Claims that guns were aimed at them are likely strange,” Francisco told the Times. “If there is a specific claim to any of these things, they should have been brought up to me or to internal affairs.

“Everyone involved was ordered to wear body cameras,” he said, “if these claims are made, we need names of officers, time and date. But none of these claims have come into my office, and I have not heard any of them addressed to the sheriff’s office, state police, or the FBI. “

During this time, the NNPD set up a dedicated hotline for all calls related to growing marijuana and related issues. He also said that the plants they confiscated and what the FBI destroyed during the raid was actually “high-THC” marijuana.

“We’ve had thousands of calls from both sides taking reports from both sides,” said Francisco. “We weren’t biased. Most of the time it was a situation he said she said, but they are all documented. “

Another claim made by farmers during the press conference is that the NNPD continues to follow them. Francisco said his officers were too busy to harass people. “If they see officers behind them or drive in the area, it is because they are taking care of normal business with other emergency calls,” Francisco said. “We have 5,000 calls a month (for the entire Navajo nation) to the police department, which only has more than 200 police officers.”

Francisco said alleged marijuana farming had caused a great discord in the community and he needed 23 more officials to handle the number of complaints in Shiprock. “Now that this warrant has been carried out and things are settled, there are no other issues other than ownership issues regarding what was left behind,” said Francisco, who said ownership of equipment is a civil issue that will face in court must be asked. “So hemp workers said it was only hemp and nobody was causing problems – no, it was causing problems with the number of calls received and the discord that resulted,” he said.