ROHNERT PARK, Calif. (KRON) — Two former Bay Area police officers were charged on several counts Friday, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California announced.
Brendon Jacy Tatum and Joseph Huffaker, two ex-cops with the Rohnert Park Police Department, were charged Friday with conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right. Tatum is also charged with falsification of records in a federal investigation and tax evasion.
The complaint alleges the two, along with other officers, used traffic stops along Highway 101 to shake down drivers for money, marijuana and other property.
The two were employed as officers by the City of Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety Police Services Patrol Division (RPDPS), according to the complaint.
Tatum, from Santa Rosa, was employed with RPDPS between 2003 and 2018, while Huffaker was employed with RPDPS between 2012 and 2019.
Between 2014 and 2017, RPDPS operated an interdiction team to conduct traffic stops along HIghway 101 between Cloverdale and Rohnert Park in a program created to seize illegal drugs. Tatum and Huffaker were both assigned to the team between 2015 and 2017 — when the operations were terminated by RPDPS.
The criminal complaint alleges Tatum exroted at least $3,700 in cash and large amounts of marijuana from drivers they stopped on Highway 101 by threatening to arrest them and seize the marijuana if the drivers didn’t agree.
But Tatum and other officers never made reports of the seizure, and didn’t submit the marijuana or taken assets into evidence.
The seizures were completely undocumented by the officers, which is against policy. The only evidence of the seizures were captured in audio and video footage from the officers’ body-worn cameras.
The undocumented stops and seizures allegedly continued even after RPDPS terminated the operations.
On Dec. 5, 2017, Tatum and Huffaker stopped a driver along Highway 101, according to the complaint. Neither were wearing RPDPS uniforms and they claimed to be ATF agents.
The two allegedly extorted marijuana from the driver and the seizure was completely undocumented.
Later that same month, Tatum and another officer stopped another driver carrying 23 pounds of marijuana and four crates of hash, all destined for a dispensary lab. The two told the driver they would either arrest him and seie the marijuana and hash, or the driver could agree to let them take the marijuana.
Tatum and the other officer took the marijuana.
In February 2018, the media began reporting of robberies along Highway 101 by law enforcement agents — and specifically the Dec. 5 robbery. The reports said the victims were interviewed by the FBI.
The complaint alleges that Tatum responded by drafting a press release claiming RPDPS was responsible for the Dec. 5 stop, and then prepared a false police report to cover his actions.
And at the same time he was allegedly extorting marijuana from drivers, the complaint also alleges Tatum made hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash deposits into his own accounts, as well as his wife’s bank account.
The deposits were all made in amounts under $10,000 to avoid banking laws requiring disclosure of the deposits, the complaint explains.
During the same time, Tatum used about $46,000 in cash that didn’t come from any of his accounts to purchase a fighing boat.
In total, the cash deposits into Tatum’s and his family’s accounts during that year, along with the cash used to purchase the fishing boat, totaled $43,059. The complaint says all the assets went unreported on Tatum’s tax returns for 2016.
“The public entrusts police officers to enforce the law,” Acting U.S. Attorney Hinds said. “The public faith erodes when that trust is violated. The abuse of police powers cannot be tolerated and must be vigorously prosecuted.”
Tatum and Huffaker are scheduled to make their initial appearance on March 12, 2021.
If convicted, the defendants face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000 on the conspiracy charge. In addition, Tatum faces a maximum statutory sentence of 20 years on the false records charge and five years on the tax evasion charge.