Former Rohnert Park police officers charged in scheme to illegally seize marijuana during traffic stops
ROHNERT PARK, Calif. - Two former Rohnert Park police officers have been charged by the Department of Justice for their involvement in an alleged scheme to seize cash and marijuana from drivers they stopped along Highway 101.
Brendon Jacy Tatum from Santa Rosa and Joseph Huffaker from Rohnert Park abused their power as police officers to pull over drivers transporting marijuana and threaten to arrest them if they did not consent to having the marijuana siezed, according to the complaint.
Tatum and Huffaker never documented the seizures, which is against the department's official policy, but were caught in audio and video footage from their body worn cameras.
The two had been on the department's interdiction team, which operated from 2014 to early 2017. However, even after the department terminated their interdiction team's operations, Tatum and Haffaker continued their scheme, the complaint said.
On December 18, 2017, Tatum and Huffaker pulled over a driver on Highway 101 while out of uniform. The two told the victim that they were ATF agents, and illegally siezed 23 pounds of marijuana and four crates of hash destined for a dispensary lab, according to authorities.
The two officers told the victim that if he didn't turn over the marijuana, he would be arrested and have it seized anyway. Or, the man could agree to let them take the marijuana and face no charges, prosecutors alleged.
When the FBI began an investigation into a similar incident on December 5, 2017, Tatum drafted an official police press release to announce the incident was actually conducted by the Rohnert Park police, and not the ATF. After the press release, he drafted a police report for the incident, prosecutors claim.
The two are charged with conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right. Tatum faces additional charges for tax evasion and falsifying records.
In total, investigators documented $443,059 in deposits made by Tatum into his bank accounts that are considered related to the scheme. The complaint alleges all of the money went unreported on Tatum’s tax returns for 2016.
"The public entrusts police officers to enforce the law," said Hinds, the federal prosecutor. "The public faith erodes when that trust is violated. The abuse of police powers cannot be tolerated and must be vigorously prosecuted."
"The FBI has a solemn responsibility to investigate allegations of public corruption and the abuse of power by any public servant. The Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety cooperated fully with the FBI to put a stop to this serious breach of public trust and to hold these individuals accountable for their actions," said FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Craig Fair. "There is no greater responsibility for law enforcement than to abide by the oath of office and respect the Constitutional rights of all people."
"The IRS enforces the nation’s tax laws, but also takes particular interest in cases where someone, like Tatum, allegedly deposits large amounts of cash below the Currency Transaction Reporting requirements to evade any filings by financial institutions and evade income taxes from the IRS," said IRS Criminal Investigation, Acting Special Agent in Charge Michael Daniels. "With both law enforcement and financial investigation expertise, our agents are uniquely qualified to follow these types of financial transactions.