Cort Jones has been missing since August. He would have turned 24 this weekend. His mother says she's frustrated that he hasn't been located, and has turned to an unlikely source: the Northern California State Militia. The militia is made up of men and women who live mostly in the north state. Some are military veterans and ex-law enforcement. Jim Haagenson, or "Captain," as he's known among his friends, says the militia is helping Cort's mom find information because she needs answers. Says Haagenson, "Certain people in the jail, long-term residents, have been talking. They've been revealing little tidbits of information that have made it's way back to the family. They're frustrated they can't get an organization to participate in the search, so they reached out to us and asked if we would help." He says the militia has conducted a search of property in Shasta County, after getting approval from the homeowner. He noted items that could be important, and says if contacted from Cort's mom with new leads, the militia will continue to follow-up. Militia members use their own money to operate.
Many of the militia members make up the Cottonwood Community Watch. About 50 people roam the streets of the small community that stretches from the top of Tehama County to the bottom of Shasta County. They use radios to communicate their locations to each other, and walk around checking businesses for unlocked doors, driving by homes that have been targeted by burglars in the past, and shining spotlights on what they call "known drug houses."
They also stop and talk to people they spot walking late at night, and question their activities. Says barber Woody Clendenen, "We know a lot of the people are up to no good. When we see them, we'll stop and ask them what they're up to, and they don't like that. Sometimes you take a picture on our cell phones, that always makes them nervous."
The group will often visit homes that they say have been abandoned, and used for housing stolen items, or drug activity. When pressed about whether they have permission to be on private property, Haagenson responds, "We consider them a public nuisance. Trying to identify the current 'legal' owner is not worth the effort and as far as I know we don't have any permission to visit the site, but don't intend to let that stop us from checking on it. The system has failed, no one is taking care of it and now its a blight on the community."
Cottonwood does not have a police force. Deputies from Shasta County, and troopers from the California Highway Patrol are responsible for it's security. But Clendenen says it could take awhile for law enforcement to get to the small town in an emergency, depending on their location.
Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko says he's aware of the activities of both the Northern California State Militia and the Cottownwood Community Watch. He says his department is spread thin due to budget cuts, and any community support is valued. However, he says they need to operate within the law, and stepping onto private property is a violation of the law. He also says law enforcement officers are privy to information that private citizens are not. He says it's dangerous to approach a situation and make a snap decision without all the facts. He adds that walking late at night is not a crime. He says he doesn't want anyone engaging in a hostile situation, because that could lead to bigger problems.
The militia says, while many have a license to carry a concealed weapon, it's members are not interested in using them. They carry handcuffs, pepper spray, and tasers. But they say their priority is building a strong neighborhood watch, and finding solutions to crime. Middle School teacher Bernie Kelly says, "It's not about physical violence. This is about understanding the needs of the community. How do we get the kids something to do when they are bored, how do we get them food, shelter, clothing, because that's what this is about."