When the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety (RPDPS) created an interdiction team in 2014 to target crime on Northern California’s 101 Highway, they didn’t plan to have to police one of their own.
Complaints Filed Against Officers in Northern California
However, on March 12th, criminal complaints were filed by the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California against two former officers who are accused of pulling over motorists and then extorting drugs and cash from citizens. The complaint alleges that instances of extortion happened during the operations of the RPDPS from 2015-2017, and even after the team was disbanded due to recreational marijuana legalization.
Brendon Jacy Tatum and Joseph Huffaker, those named in the complaint on Friday, both maintain their innocence but have resigned their positions in law enforcement. Tatum resigned in 2018. Huffaker, however, did not resign until a court settlement was reached with the city paying out $75,000 as he refused to accept the termination.
“The City of Rohnert Park does not tolerate corrupt and unethical practices within the ranks of its employees, particularly its sworn peace officers and those officers involved in today’s charges are no longer employed by the City,” city officials said in a statement Friday.
According to the complaint filed by the US Attorney’s Office, the two police officers would pull over vehicles and threaten individuals with arrest if they did not turn over their marijuana. Prosecutors allege that $3,700 in cash was seized by Tatum, as well as large amounts of pot.
In the month of December 2017, despite the legalization of recreational use of marijuana, the two officers continued to target individuals along the 101 Highway, falsely identifying themselves as Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Officers Avoided Detection While Extorting Large Sums of Money From Drivers
Although copious amounts of drugs were taken into custody, there were no reports of seizure filed, no drugs admitted into evidence, and no destruction orders for the marijuana. Investigations did reveal audio and video footage of interaction and seizure on the officer’s body cameras.
During the second occurence, with Tatum and an unnamed officer, a total of 23 pounds of marijuana and 4 crates of hash were confiscated, all which were a scheduled delivery to an operational marijuana dispensary. By February, media entities were beginning to speak out about highway robbery, possibly at the hands of law enforcement agents.
When Tatum caught wind that the FBI was investigating those stops from December 2017, he fashioned a press release that claimed the RPDPS was responsible for the stop in question, and then went so far as to fabricate a police report to further hide his criminal actions.
Investigators show that in 2016, Tatum extorted hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets. By making cash deposits in increments lower than $10,000 and distributing it between his own and his wife’s personal accounts, he managed to keep from initiating bank regulations that would shine a spotlight on his income information. Also, during this same time, Tatum used cash to purchase a $46,000 fishing boat. The complaint lists the total of deposits, along with the boat purchase, as a total of $443,059. None of these assets were listed in his tax returns for 2016.
Both men have been charged with conspiracy to commit extortion under color of authority. Additionally, Tatum was charged with falsifying records in a federal investigation and tax evasion. Possible consequences include hefty fines and up to 20 years in prison.
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