Four charged with pot growhouse burglaries, including Richmond incident that resulted in a shootout

OAKLAND — Federal prosecutors in the Bay Area have charged four people in connection with two break-ins at marijuana cultivation sites in Richmond and San Francisco, including one that resulted in a shootout when the alleged burglars were interrupted.

Vernell Thrower, Joe’Vonnie Ralls, Marquese Belton, and Donald Belton were charged with conspiracy with intent to distribute marijuana and attempting to possess and distribute marijuana. Additionally, Thrower is charged with carrying a firearm during the commission of a drug trafficking offense, court records show.

The recently-unsealed indictment lists two incidents, starting in August 2017, when the four were allegedly involved in a growhouse break-in and an ensuing car chase. The indictment alleges that Thrower, Ralls and Marquese Belton used a jack and a pry bar to break into a warehouse in Richmond, then cut 100 plants loose and began stuffing them into trash bags.

During this, a car pulled up and an occupant began shooting at Marquese Belton and Ralls, according to the indictment. Thrower allegedly returned fire.

Four minutes later, a Richmond patrol officer responding to the shots saw the four men speeding away in a Honda. They followed the car to Albany, where it “went airborne, and rolled over several times before coming to rest on its roof,” while traveling estimated speeds exceeding 80 miles per hour, the indictment says. Ralls was found at the scene with a gunshot wound to his ankle, prosecutors allege.

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