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Fort Bragg councilman killed while investigating pot operation

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A Northern California city councilman was shot and killed while investigating a marijuana-growing operation, authorities said, and a SWAT team was scouring the remote woods for a suspect Sunday night.

Jere Melo, a member of the Fort Bragg City Council since 1996, was shot and killed on Saturday in a rugged area near the Noyo River, according to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office. Fort Bragg Mayor Dave Turner said the small city was in shock and said Melo’s service would resonate for years to come.

“Jere is probably the hardest-working councilman ever,” Turner said. “He’s a guy that gets along with everybody. He brought civility to the council."

Melo and his wife, Madeleine, had two children, Turner said. For a portion of Melo’s time on the council, he served as mayor.

Melo, who had a degree in forestry and moved to the area in the 1960s to work as a forester, was working as a private security contractor for a timber company. He had received a report of a marijuana-growing operation, Turner said, and went with another man to investigate. Turner said that someone who appeared to have been guarding the marijuana operation “jumped up and opened fire.”

The man who accompanied Melo escaped and called authorities on his cellphone.

On Sunday, authorities said Aaron Bassler, a transient from Fort Bragg who is in his 30s, is a suspect.

Bassler “has had some skirmishes with the police over the years,” Turner said.

According to local media reports, earlier this year Bassler was arrested after crashing a truck into a school’s tennis courts. In 2009, Bassler faced federal charges after allegedly throwing packages containing strange drawings and writings into the Chinese consulate in San Francisco four times. Bassler completed a pretrial diversion program, and the charges were dropped, local media reported.

Fort Bragg, which has a population of about 7,300, is about 160 miles north of San Francisco.

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-- Scott Gold

Photo: Fort Bragg's central district. Credit: Los Angeles Times

 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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