After sweating for a month or so, charges filed against Jose Lopez and Javier Barragan — the two hunters accused of chasing campers in the Los Padres National Forest in April — were dropped by Deputy District Attorney Megan Baldwin at the Santa Barbara Superior Court in Santa Maria on Thursday. Video footage taken from security cameras at a restaurant and a gas station they had visited was recently procured by the defense team, and corroborated their story.
The two men — Los Angeles County residents and avid hunters by all accounts — said they had been target shooting in the Los Padres National Forest, getting their shooting positions dialed in for hunting season later in the year. Unfortunately, their trip happened to coincide with law enforcement finding 1,300 marijuana plants — worth about 26 million dollars — on nearby Forest Service land. Two campers reported having been chased by two gun-toting Mexican men roughly matching Lopez and Barragan’s descriptions, and the two marksmen found themselves in custody of Sheriff’s Deputies a short time later, wondering what was going on. “Nothing like this has ever happened to us. It’s not easy going to jail for five or six days,” said Barragan, who, along with Lopez, had been out on bail awaiting a preliminary hearing. “We really didn’t know how long this was going to take.”
Barragan said that about 20 supportive friends and family members showed up in court on Thursday anticipating a preliminary hearing setting, only to be relieved by the outcome. “It lasted about two minutes,” he said.
“To this day, we don’t know where the marijuana grow is because they never saw it,” said defense attorney Michael Clayton. “They had hunting licenses on them that day. [Law enforcement] absolutely got the wrong guys.”
For their part, Barragan said he and Lopez were pretty elated that the situation had resolved itself, although it has made life a little bit tricky in the short term. Barragan owns a contracting company, and said business has been affected by his arrest. “I don’t know what people have seen on the web and on the news,” he said, “but thanks to Mr. Clayton and his associates, we’re free. We’re also really grateful to all of the family and friends who stuck by us.” Aside from having numerous character witnesses — including an LA County Sheriff’s Deputy who was supposed to have come on that very trip — in their camp, Lopez and Barragan’s supporters had a website showing their hunting activities to reinforce their statement that they are not pot farmers.