Suspect pleads not guilty to Rancho Sequoia murder

Matthew Aaron Brown
Matthew Aaron Brown

The hunt for a homicide suspect ended Tuesday morning, July 22, when the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office SWAT team arrested Matthew Aaron Brown, 30, from San Bernardino, after another body was found in the Rancho Sequoia area of Alderpoint — the fourth homicide there in the last 24 months, according to officials.

The man killed on Monday, July 21 was identified as Rancho Sequoia resident Scott Johnson, 57, Humboldt County Sheriff's office Lt. Wayne Hanson said last Wednesday.

Sheriff's office Lt. Steve Knight said two deputies were in the area Monday looking for Brown when they received a 911 call from a resident at 9:49 p.m. about another shooting. Brown was wanted in connection with the Friday, July 18 shooting of 49-year-old Neil Decker in Rancho Sequoia. The two reportedly were in a dispute over personal property.

"Deputies had been out in the Alderpoint area since earlier that day, following up on leads from the homicide from Friday night," Knight said. "They were in the vicinity when the shooting occurred and heard several shots. However, hearing shots in that area isn't uncommon."

Knight said the deputies were on scene within five minutes of the 911 call. One witness told deputies Brown was in the area and other residents went to look for them, with one believed to be shot and with major injuries.

While searching the area, deputies found the deceased man, Scott Johnson, in the roadway, and according to Knight he had been shot.

The SWAT team was then called to the scene. Arriving around 5 a.m. Tuesday, the team found Brown at about 6 a.m. Brown was arrested and booked into the Humboldt County jail where his bail was set at $1 million.

The Humboldt County Coroner's Office reported last Tuesday that a deputy coroner was on the scene. The incident is under investigation, and investigators continued to search the area, according to Knight.

"The detectives are looking into the connection between this shooting and the other one, and if Brown is responsible or not," Knight said. Hanson said Johnson and Brown were acquainted with each other, which is not unusual in the small community of 100 to 200 residents.

"It's rural and secluded," he said, adding that many people in the area — which has seen four homicides in the last 24 months — live off the grid and grow marijuana.

Early witnesses statements indicated Johnson may have been among a group of residents who went to look for Brown, officials said.

"That's what the initial reports were," Hanson said. "Right now, our detectives are investigating."

Brown pleaded not guilty on Thursday at the Humboldt County Courthouse to one count of murder with two special allegations of being a felon who intentionally discharged a firearm that resulted in a person's death, according to Assistant District Attorney Kelly Neel.

As to why Brown was only charged with one count of murder, Neel said she could not comment specifically on Brown, but said that "the second death is still under investigation."

Brown is set to appear in court again on July 30 for an intervention hearing and on Aug. 5 for a preliminary hearing.

The sheriff's office has asked anyone with information to call the office at 445-7251 or its crime tip line at 268-2539.