Kennewick police probe home-invasion robberies

KENNEWICK — Two home-invasion robberies that appeared to target medical marijuana users over the weekend are being investigated by Kennewick police.

Detectives don't yet know if the crimes are connected -- the suspects' descriptions are different in each case -- but both victims claim to be legal medical marijuana users, Sgt. Ken Lattin told the Herald.

Increasing crime connected to medical marijuana concerns law enforcement officials.

Lattin said he thinks people don't realize that those with medical marijuana cards can become a target of drug users. And that has Mid-Columbia officials wrestling with how to regulate it.

At tonight's Kennewick City Council meeting, council members will discuss extending a moratorium on collective medical marijuana gardens.

Kennewick, Richland, Pasco and West Richland declared moratoriums this year after a new state law went into effect allowing authorized medical marijuana patients to grow plants in collective gardens.

Officials are trying to figure out issues such as zoning, taxation and business licensing, and how to reconcile conflicting state and federal laws. Federal law still makes it illegal to grow or possess marijuana.

Kennewick council members are being asked to extend the moratorium another six months to continue researching issues, including concerns by police that collective medical marijuana gardens will lead to vandalism, theft, trespassing and compromise neighborhood safety.

The first robbery was at 9:15 p.m. Friday at an apartment at 465 N Arthur St.

Three men wearing masks entered an apartment and tied up the three people inside. Chad Reed, 23, and Whitney Allen, 22, live in the apartment, and Cory Mortensen, 21, was visiting, Lattin said.

The suspects stole medical marijuana, an undisclosed amount of cash and cellphones, he said.

One suspect was armed with a handgun, but no one was injured, Lattin said.

A full-size van, described as being green, red or blue, was seen in the area.

Then, about 8 p.m. Saturday, another home-invasion robbery was reported at 1512 W. Third Ave. Sami Mendoza, 27, lives at the house with her brother, but he was not home at the time.

Mendoza told police she heard a knock at the door, but she did not answer. Two suspects then entered the house, showed a gun and tied her up.

The men, who were wearing masks and described as being "chubby," took a 50-inch flat screen TV, a cellphone, computer laptop and medical marijuana, Lattin said.

A small black late-model sedan was seen in the alley near the home earlier in the day, he said.

In both incidents, the victims said they had valid medical marijuana cards, which is being investigated, Lattin said.

Detectives suspect, however, the victims may have been illegally selling marijuana.

Kennewick police have investigated 10 felony crimes involving medical marijuana in 21/2 years, he said.

As recently as September, two male cousins and a woman were charged with scheming to rob a Kennewick man of cash and medical pot.

The woman met the victim online then arranged to meet him in person near a Kennewick church, court documents said. The two were sitting in a car smoking marijuana when the cousins robbed the victim at gunpoint of his wallet, cellphone and backpack, which reportedly contained the drugs, documents said.

In October, a 30-year-old Kennewick man was shot and killed while allegedly breaking into a Moses Lake home to try to steal marijuana from a medical marijuana user, Grant County sheriff's officials said.

Joshua Montano, who reportedly was with two other suspects, was shot by the resident of the home. He died Oct. 17 at a Spokane hospital.

Anyone with information on the home-invasion robberies can call Tri-Cities Crime Stoppers at 586-8477. Calls are confidential.

-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; phorton@tricityherald.com