The details are the same every time.
A small group of masked men dressed in black approach a cannabis shop, break a door or a window with hammers, rush inside, smash up some display cases, then take off. Often they hit more than one business in a single night, and then disappear.
At first, it seemed like a one-off event: Some kids whose blood started running hot decide to try for a big score, head to a dispensary, panic at the level of security, then move across town to try their luck at a different seller.
But more break-ins earlier this month have begun to complicate the story, and the true motives of the would-be burglars grow increasingly opaque. A group tried the exact same methods again at Kure Cannabis on Guadalupe about half an hour before New MexiCann on San Mateo was hit. It's the third time Kure has been broken into in the past few months, and it's been black-clad intruders every time. No money or cannabis has ever been taken from any of the state-licensed dispensaries—only a bit of merchandise. Mostly, the cost to operators has been replacing doors, windows and display cases.
Santa Fe police who are still treating the cases as burglaries concede to SFR that the incidents are being investigated as if the burglars are one crew.
For the first time, law enforcement found physical evidence at the scene of the New MexiCann break-in, and video captured by security cameras and shared with police indicate that the burglars at various locations could be the same individuals.
The timeline goes like this.
First, on March 20, the now-familiar hammer-wielding, masked assailants hit Fruit of the Earth on Early Street near the Railyard. Then, half an hour later, masked men broke into Shift, the dispensary on Bisbee Court south of town, caused some property damage and then left within seconds.
Santa Fe County Sheriff's officials provided a copy of security camera recordings from the Shift break-in on March 20, noting to SFR only after a formal records request that its files were "corrupt." However, SFR was able to access the files within minutes. The recordings show two burglars with covered faces breaking down the glass door at the entrance of Shift and struggling to enter.
After getting into the main lobby, one of the burglars can be seen taking two swings at a reception window with the hammer, failing to break it, and then retreating.
The Sheriff's Department is sharing information from the Shift break-in, which happened outside city limits, with police, who are investigating the rest of the break-ins, all of which took place within Santa Fe proper.
On March 27, at 1:30 am, men dressed in black and using hammers smashed their way into Kure. They took off after breaking some display cases and making off with a few pieces of merchandise for sale in the front office. Like the previous burglaries, they didn't get away with any cash or cannabis.
A Kure employee told SFR at the time that the intruders had caused more property damage by breaking cases than the value of the missing merchandise, and that the display cases were unlocked and could be opened without being broken.
On May 1, four black-clad men wielding hammers struck New MexiCann at 1:30 in the morning, and then, half an hour later, Kure was hit again by black-clad men with hammers. Nothing was taken from either spot.
Police say they're now investigating the latest two break-ins, at Kure and New MexiCann, as if they were carried out by the same people.
"Upon reviewing the surveillance video, which is decent quality, there were four males. They appeared younger, just based on their stature and clothing; they were all masked, wearing gloves, covered pretty much from head to toe," Santa Fe Police Sgt. Cipriano Varela Jr., who is heading up the investigation into the most recent pair of break-ins, tells SFR. "They implemented the same tools to break into both places, which were hammers. And they busted the windows out in the same fashion. They started at the outside of the windows and then pushed the middle of the windows out."
Video helped police determine that two of the burglars at New MexiCann appeared to be wearing the same clothing and the same shoes as some of those who broke into Kure about 30 minutes later, according to Varela. He adds that a blood sample and touch DNA were found at New MexiCann, the first significant pieces of evidence that could lead to a suspect.
Police are still investigating whether the break-ins in March were carried out by the same group. "Absolutely, we have taken that into consideration," Varela says of the possibility.
Crime analyst Malissa Austin-Cordell is examining data that could link the burglaries. Deputy Chief Robert Vasquez tells SFR through a spokesman that Austin-Cordell is working with the "totality of circumstances to determine linkage and pattern," and that crime data, like the time of each break-in and the distance between the various shops that were hit can help "with identifying a trend, pattern, linkage and an overall understanding of the crime."
Varela says the hope is that Austin-Cordell can help get ahead of the break-ins.
"We are aware, and we are definitely taking all the precautions we can to get a step ahead. They're happening so frequently and they all seem to be the same people," Varela says. "So yes, we're on that."
A representative from Kure declined to be quoted for this story, but a Kure employee, Marcus Herrera, expressed frustration with police.
"Twenty-eight minutes," Herrera said a few days after the break-in on March 20. "The owner was dead asleep, in bed, got the call and was here, and waited 28 minutes."
A police spokesman says that another break-in was reported at a nearby restaurant, accounting for the slow response time. SFR continues to try to obtain the dispatch logs for the dispensary break-ins, which would show the time between the burglar alarm being triggered and when law enforcement arrived, but a request filed with the Regional Emergency Communication Center is still pending.
Medical cannabis dispensaries are licensed by the state Health Department, which requires a security alarm system, monthly maintenance inspections and detailed documentation of those inspections.