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SANTA CRUZ — A 36-year-old Santa Cruz cannabis business owner was arrested this week after an apparently violent response to a break-in.
Derek Hubbard, who police say was the victim of an early-morning robbery at his Encinal Street facility Monday, was being held without bail in Santa Cruz County Jail on Tuesday. Hubbard allegedly rammed into and shot at the escape vehicles of multiple thieves as they were leaving the scene around 4:30 a.m. Police later arrived in the area and were unable to apprehend the thieves, officials said.
Hubbard — who runs a cannabis cultivation, manufacturing and distribution center — had been the victim of a prior break-in robbery and was alerted to the most recent break-in via his security system, Santa Cruz Police Deputy Chief Jon Bush said.
In what turned into a rolling gun battle through the Harvey West neighborhood, Hubbard allegedly initiated the shooting with the departing thieves, according to Bush.
“(Hubbard) used lethal and deadly force to try and stop what was ultimately a property crime from occurring without there being any threat of violence toward him,” Bush said of investigators’ decision to arrest Hubbard.
While Santa Cruz police originally booked Hubbard Monday on suspicion of four counts of attempted murder, the Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s Office elected to file numerous lesser charges, including felony shooting at an inhabited dwelling, four counts of assault with a semiautomatic rifle and three counts of assault with a deadly weapon. The charges include several special enhancements for the use of a weapon in the commission of a felony. Hubbard is scheduled for arraignment at 8:15 a.m. Wednesday before Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Syda Cogliati.
One of the vehicles believed to be involved in the robbery, reported stolen out of the Bay Area, was abandoned near the Pasatiempo exit of Highway 17. Police were unable to provide a description of a second vehicle believed to be involved.
The Sentinel spoke to a man who identified himself Tuesday as the general manager of the cannabis business who asked for anonymity for fear of danger to his personal safety. He said he and others in the field are aware of an organized crime ring whose members target licensed cannabis businesses throughout the state and have picked up their efforts locally in the past month and a half. Amid a group of local business owners sharing information, thieves had been using similar tactics that have large armed and masked groups showing up in multiple high-speed vehicles who are breaking in with professional tools, the manager said. He counted at least 10 people involved in Monday’s theft.
Professionals in the industry say they feel like they do not receive the same level of law enforcement response as other businesses, despite being highly regulated and highly taxed, the manager said.
“We’re put in such a bad and dangerous position right now,” the manager said. “These stings are targeting these companies and hitting them over and over and over again. Now they’re trying to prosecute someone for defending their own life and defending their own property when we’re being targeted by these monsters that would kill us in a second.”