City of Rohnert Park settles for corruption lawsuit worth $415,000

According to Kym Kemp, the independent Humboldt County journalist that originally broke the story regarding police corruption in Rohnert Park back in 2017, the city of Rohnert Park has reportedly agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by Ezekial Flatten for $415,000. This does not end the city’s woes, as it is now facing a federal lawsuit, filed Friday, Aug. 16, that alleges widespread corruption in the Police Department and specifically names two former officers, Brendon Jacy Tatum and Joseph Huffaker, former commander Jeffrey Taylor, former Director Brian Masterson, and Officer Christopher Snyder.  

  Tatum and Huffaker were also named in the prior lawsuit that was recently settled.  The duo’s unethical actions have been detrimental to the local community, after leading to a series of lawsuits, complaints, and internal investigations.  Tatum is no stranger to controversy, and his actions cost the taxpayers of Rohnert Park more than a million dollars  during his time on the force.  

A jury decided that Tatum illegally intruded the home of Elva and Raul Barajas in 2014, and violated their privacy when he entered a back door without declaring his intent. The jury awarded the family damages, with the city eventually settling the case for $1.2 million earlier this year, after reportedly rejecting a pre-trial settlement offer of $20,000, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. 

As recently reported by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, the Rohnert Park police department is awash in allegations that money and cannabis were illegally seized during traffic stops, many of which were conducted in southern Mendocino County.  The newest lawsuit alleges that officers “conspired to...unlawfully stop and detain...unlawfully search...commit robbery and extortion through a pattern of racketeering activity, and obstruct justice to impede or prevent discovery of evidence and prosecution for the crimes committed in furtherance of the conspiracy.”

The lawsuit describes the creation of a drug interdiction team by the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety in 2012, intending to stop vehicles outside of city limits in order to seize cash and contraband.  By 2014, the task force was highly successful, with Tatum being named ‘Officer of the Year’ for his high volume of seizures, and eventually being promoted to Sergeant in 2015.

The incidents mentioned in the lawsuit  created a culture of intimidation and corruption, with officers threatening Plaintiffs with felony arrest if they did not comply with demands.  Jesse Schwartz had $55,000 taken from him following a traffic stop by Tatum, yet no charges were ever filed against him.  Schwartz alleges that Tatum threatened him with arrest and legal proceedings if he did not surrender the money.   

A fellow Plaintiff, Joshua Surrat, had a similar experience after being stopped by Tatum and Huffaker.  Tatum allegedly illegally searched Surrat’s vehicle, and after discovering 26 pounds of cannabis, demanded that Surrat surrender the legally transported pounds or face arrest.

Plaintiff Jason Harre alleges that Tatum and Huffaker stopped him and pretended to be federal agents working for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms, also known as the ATF.  They confiscated 34 pounds of legal medical cannabis and $7,000 in cash, provided no receipts for items taken, and refused to acknowledge the valid legal shipment of medical cannabis, even when faced with evidence demonstrating the legality of the shipment.

In contrast to his fellow Plaintiffs, Jacob Ford was stopped by Tatum and Huffaker, and he refused their demands that he surrender the 23 pounds of legal, medical cannabis he was transporting.  According to the complaint filed on August 16th, he was subsequently “arrested and cited for felony sales, transportation, and conspiracy.” When Mr. Ford appeared in Sonoma County Court to contest the events, there was “no record of his arrest, no report received by the prosecutor, and his property was never returned.”

The series of incidents involving cash and cannabis seizures raises many questions about the integrity and credibility of the officers associated with the events.  Tatum and all Rohnert Park police officers take an oath of office in which they swear to “never engage in acts of corruption,” to be “exemplary in obeying the law,”  to “protect the innocent against deception,” and the “weak against oppression or intimidation.”  

As quoted in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Izaak Schwaiger, the attorney representing the plaintiffs in the new lawsuit, stated that “the best-case scenario is we have a chain of command up to the city manager that is totally incompetent and unaware of what’s happening in the department.  The worst-case scenario is the Department of Public Safety is an outright criminal enterprise that needs to be shut down.”