Man dead, 2 deputies shot after Rastafarian pot farm dispute

A suspect died and two Northern California deputies were shot and wounded Tuesday in a shootout after the officers responded to reports of an agitated man pulling up plants in a Rastafarian church's marijuana farm, authorities said.

Yuba County Sheriff Steve Durfor said three deputies responding to reports of an unclear disturbance arrived separately at the small farm in remote Oregon House, which is about 55 miles (88.5 kilometers) north of Sacramento, beginning at about 8:40 a.m.

A resident pointed out the suspect to two of the deputies. The suspect then fled up a hill behind the farm and deputies lost sight of him after about 100 yards near another home.

The deputies were given permission to search the home and the gunman fired on the two who went inside while the third deputy took up a position at the backdoor. The third deputy raced into the house twice to pull his two colleagues outside to safety.

None of the deputies knew what happened to the shooter and so SWAT teams fired tear gas inside before entering and finding the dead man. The sheriff said they had not identified the shooter nor determined if the deputies killed him or if he shot himself.

The sheriff said the deputies were airlifted to a hospital and both were in serious condition, but each was expected to recover after undergoing surgery.

Sugarleaf Rastafarian Church leader Heidi Lepp said she received a call from church members who live on the marijuana farm saying a newly arrived worker had become erratic, was ripping up plants and holding a gun.

Lepp said she called the sheriff's office and told the men on the farm to leave immediately.

Lepp said she knows the suspect only as "Sawyer" and he showed up at the farm about a month ago. The property is owned by a branch of Lepp's church, she said.

The property is between 20 and 40 acres, Lepp said, and the church considers marijuana a sacrament. It does not have a permit to grow medicinal marijuana in Yuba County.

The shooting occurred a day after two police officers were shot and wounded nearly 200 miles (322 kilometers) south in the central California city of Los Banos during a struggle with a man who broke into his estranged wife's apartment. Police fatally shot that shooter.

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Associated Press writer Paul Elias contributed to this story.

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This story has been corrected to properly spell Heidi Lepp's name and her relationship to the farm. It is Lepp, not Leff. She does not own the property. It is owned by a branch of her church.