BAYONET POINT — The deputies knocked on his door and called his phone, but Steven Byle didn't answer.
Byle, a local activist who has made headlines for his clashes with county officials, developers and neighbors, was busy trying to flush his marijuana stash down the toilet, according to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
Acting on a tip of drug activity at the 6630 Leeside Isle home, deputies came by Byle's home Tuesday afternoon, said sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll. After not getting a response, deputies secured the perimeter of the home and waited to get a search warrant. Doll said Byle, 50, opened the door after investigators told him they had a warrant.
Inside, authorities found 91 marijuana plants, anti-anxiety prescription drugs, several bongs, a scale, two revolvers, a shotgun and dried marijuana — as well as evidence Byle tried to flush some of the weed down the toilet and his sinks, a report states.
This is the third time Byle has been accused of running a marijuana grow house.
In 1994, he was charged with marijuana cultivation in Hillsborough County. The case was dropped after the judge threw out evidence.
In 2001, authorities found 172 marijuana plants in Byle's deceased mother's Oldsmar home. A judge threw out the evidence in that case, however, after ruling that Pinellas detectives provided incorrect information when seeking the search warrant.
Doll said evidence at Byle's home on Tuesday led investigators to another house at 12719 Chicago Ave. in Hudson, where they found 177 marijuana plants and a trailer of grow-house equipment. No one was at the home when it was raided. Detectives are still investigating to determine the identity of the marijuana gardener.
"It's possible it was Byle, but that's still under investigation," Doll said.
Evidence at the Chicago Avenue address led authorities to a third residence — 3223 Chalon St. in New Port Richey. It was not a marijuana grow house, though investigators found 3.4 grams of marijuana and prescription drugs, a report states. The resident, Clifton Hile, 25, was arrested and charged with trafficking in hydrocodone and possession of drug paraphernalia. He is being held at the Pasco County jail in lieu of $15,150.
Byle, who attended law school, has been in the news off and on for years. He sued a land developer and the county in 2006 as he fought a large townhouse development in an endangered wildlife habitat in Bayonet Point.
In 2007, Byle sued a neighbor, alleging her dock was too long. In 2008, he was one of two plaintiffs in a suit trying to oust a write-in candidate for the east Pasco County Commission seat.
On Tuesday, he was charged with cultivation of marijuana, destruction of evidence, possession of marijuana with intent to manufacture and sell, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was released from jail Wednesday afternoon on $14,150 bail.
Calls to his phone number Wednesday went unanswered.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.