Rohnert Park Police Officers Being Investigated Following Two Incidents Where Humboldt County Cannabis Was Seized Under Suspicious Circumstances
Rohnert Park police officers Sgt. Jacy Tatum and Officer Joseph Huffaker have been placed on administrative leave and are under an internal investigation after a pair of articles we wrote describing allegations that officers had illegally seized Humboldt County grown cannabis during a traffic stop lead to an apparent cover up attempt. In our articles, Zeke Flatten drew attention to irregularities in the conduct of the police officers whom he alleges confiscated three pounds of cannabis from him on December 5 near the Mendocino/Sonoma County line.Part of the alleged cover up included accusing Mr. Flatten of transporting 30 pounds of cannabis. According to our investigation, these pounds belonged to a Humboldt County farmer whose product was also confiscated in a suspicious manner as it was being transported south in the latter half of December. Recently, Mr. Flatten says efforts have been made to intimidate his wife and silence him.
On February 11, we posted two stories about Mr. Flatten, who alleged that two law enforcement officers, including one that he believes “with almost certainty” to have been then Hopland Tribal Police Chief Steven Hobb, stopped him and illegally removed three pounds of Humboldt County cannabis from his rental vehicle a few miles north of the Mendocino/Sonoma county line. Hobb, who has left his position with the Hopland Tribe and is now working as an officer for the city of Clearlake denies this.
Mr. Flatten alleges he was pulled over about 10 miles south of Hopland by an unmarked black SUV on December 5. Two men got out of the vehicle dressed in green uniforms with raid style vests lettered with the word “POLICE.” They seized the cannabis he was carrying without leaving an inventory of the items confiscated, and left him without searching his vehicle in “less than 5 minutes.” As they were leaving, one of the two men told him they were with the ATF, a federal agency that doesn’t recognize state cannabis laws.
Mr. Flatten, however, had worked extensively with the ATF on at least one case while he worked as an undercover officer. And, ironically, according to Mr. Flatten, the man’s parting words, while intended to squelch any complaints, actually made him more inclined to believe the stop was illegal. He said that the ATF are professionals who collect evidence properly, unlike the officers that had confiscated his three pounds.During the stop, both officers had handled Mr. Flatten’s rental car paperwork. Later, he carefully sealed the paperwork away to preserve any fingerprints on it. But, so far, no law enforcement agency has attempted to develop prints and match them with suspects.
On February 13, two days after the stories were published, former Mendocino County Undersheriff Randy Johnson who was in charge of investigating Mr. Flatten’s allegations because it occurred in their jurisdiction sent us a press release he said showed that Mr. Flatten had actually been pulled over legally by the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety (Rohnert Park’s police force). He said the Mendocino Sheriff’s Department would no longer be looking into Flatten’s incident, because as he told us in a later interview, “Our investigation showed [the stop] was done by a legitimate agency.”
The press release issued by Rohnert Park described a marijuana seizure that occurred at some unspecified time in December. (Download and read the Press Release from Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety here.) It did not name Zeke Flatten nor did it identify the date the stop allegedly occurred. According to the press release, the officers confiscated an unspecified but “large amount” of cannabis. However, there were no details that would link that stop to that of Mr. Flatten on December 5.However, the press release gave a case number, RPK 17-5373, and named two Rohnert Park officers as contacts — Sgt. J. Tatum and Commander J. Taylor.
When contacted, Commander Jeff Taylor said he was unable to find the report on which the press release issued two days before under his supervision was allegedly based. He asked for more time.
After over a week of attempting to recontact him, on February 26, Commander Aaron Johnson of the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety responded to us but refused to answer any questions about the case. He did say that both Taylor and Tatum, the officers listed on the press release, were on medical leave.
In response to a public records act request, the city eventually responded 24 days later with the Incident/Investigation report for Case RPK 17-5373 as well as some though not all of the information requested. Though the report states that the stop occurred on December 5, the date Zeke Flatten had been pulled over, the time listed (1 p.m.) does not coincide with evidence Flatten provided us, which included a timestamped gas receipt for 11:50 a.m. in Hopland and records of a phone call made after the incident to his wife at 12:15 p.m. from the Starbucks parking lot in Cloverdale. His documents indicate the stop occurred around 12 p.m.
In addition, the vehicle listed in the report by Sgt. Tatum is a white Mercedes SUV that did not have a license plate. Flatten has a rental agreement corroborating his account that he was driving a white Kia with California plates.
Furthermore, though Flatten claimed that only three pounds were in his vehicle, the officer filing the report, Sgt. Jacy Tatum (who was also listed as a contact on the press release) claimed that a “total of approximately 30 pounds was located along with several hundred containers of concentrated marijuana hash.” In addition, the attached Evidence/Property Report showed Officer Joseph Huffaker had placed 30 pounds of marijuana into evidence. (Note: The “several hundred containers of concentrated marijuana hash” were not mentioned further but we later learned they hadn’t been confiscated.)
However, though the document claimed that the stop originated on December 5, the 30 pounds of marijuana they claimed they seized on that date wasn’t entered into evidence until December 19–two weeks later. Chain of custody rules require officers to document where seized evidence is kept. But, there was no explanation offered for where the 30 pounds of marijuana allegedly seized two weeks earlier had been located. [Read Sgt. Tatum’s account here.]
In addition, the Rohnert Park cases filed before and after the one listed on the press release were both dated December 19. Police report numbers are usually sequential and cases are normally filed in chronological order. Why would one that allegedly took place on December 5 be filed between two cases on December 19? Unless, of course, it did not take place on December 5 as claimed…
The officers’ account also does not list normal information gathered during a stop–the license of the driver, the VIN number or plate number of the vehicle, and the address of the driver.
The officer’s report though seemed at times very detailed. Sgt. Tatum described, for instance, that a California Highway Patrol officer and his trainee arrived at the scene to “assist us.” The details led this reporter to believe that the report likely described a real stop–but not one that involved Mr. Flatten.
Our investigation led to a Humboldt County farmer whose cannabis had been seized from the Mercedes Benz and, eventually, also the driver, both of whom wish to remain anonymous. The driver said he had gotten his temporary California cannabis permit and he had headed south in the last half of December from Humboldt County with 30 pounds and also with containers of hash.
He said he was stopped by two law enforcement officers in a black unmarked SUV. He said, “They were wearing almost civilian clothes, but they were wearing a tactical vest with their [personal] name on the vest.”
He said he was almost immediately suspicious. As with Mr. Flatten’s stop, the officers didn’t follow normal procedures. “[The officer] didn’t ask for my registration,” the Benz driver said. “He asked me immediately to get out of the car. He didn’t run my license.”When asked if he had any marijuana, he said he told the officer that he did but told the officer, “Everything is legal” and offered to show his manifest. The officers requested to see his cargo. One of the things the Benz driver said he found disturbing is the officers asked him several questions about what strains of marijuana he had and didn’t seem interested at all in the hash he was also carrying which seemed odd to him. The officers told him they were taking the marijuana but would leave him the hash. The Benz driver said because he felt he was legally transporting the 30 pounds of cannabis, he argued with the officers. “At least give me an inventory [of the items taken],” the Benz driver said he asked the officers. He said he intended to use the receipt from the officers to have his attorney argue for the return of the cannabis.
According to the Benz driver, one of the officers began to get hostile and started threatening that they could arrest him and also confiscate his hash. He said they told him that they were “associated with the federal government” and didn’t have to follow state law.
Eventually, said the Benz driver, a California Highway Patrol vehicle with two officers drove up and parked behind the first officers’ vehicle. Though the Benz driver never actually spoke to the CHP, at this point, he said he began to believe the stop must be legitimate and stopped arguing with the original officers. He left the scene still carrying the containers of hash but leaving behind the 30 pounds of cannabis with the officers.
He does say that afterward, like Mr. Flatten, he also called the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department and lodged a complaint. The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department says they don’t have a record of either complaint.
Capt. Bruce Carpenter of the California Highway Patrol confirmed that two of his officers, though they couldn’t remember the exact date, did remember coming across the two Rohnert Park officers after the officers had pulled over the Mercedes Benz. He wrote, “They had no contact with the driver of the stopped vehicle and did not know what actions were ultimately taken by the Rohnert Park Officers.”
At the end of the Incident/Investigation Report filed by Sgt. Tatum, he states that the case was forwarded to the “DA’s Officer for filing.” However, an aide for the Sonoma County District Attorney told us, “I’ve looked every which way in our system and we do not have it.”
A report generated from Rohnert Park shows that Officer Joe Huffaker entered the 30 pounds of marijuana as “Found Property”–they were not originally booked as evidence but rather as incidental items. That, along with the officers’ failure to gather basic evidence such as the Mercedez Benz’s driver’s license number seems to indicate that the 30 pounds were never intended to be part of a criminal case.
Terry Simpson from Simpson Investigative Services Group contacted this reporter and Zeke Flatten several times during the course of what he characterized as an “Administrative Investigation for the City of Rohnert Park on the complaint of Mr. Flatten.”
Simpson said that he believes the two stories posted February 11 on this website detailing Mr. Flatten’s allegations about having three pounds of cannabis stolen by law enforcement officers led to the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety press release on February 13. He also revealed that he believes that the investigative report written by Sgt. Tatum which accuses Zeke Flatten of having “30 pounds…along with several hundred containers of concentrated marijuana hash” was not written until February 20, a week after the press release and around 11 weeks after Mr. Flatten was stopped by law enforcement on December 5.
Simpson stressed several times, verbally and in writing, that neither the City of Rohnert Park nor he were attempting to build a case against either Mr. Flatten or the Mercedes Benz driver. He did write to Mr. Flatten that “the officers are on Admin leave and will stay on it until I’m done.”
Later, he told this reporter, “People that are doing wrong are going to pay for it.” He stressed that did not at all mean Zeke Flatten or the Mercedes Benz driver.
At one point on this last Tuesday, he asked the question at the bottom of this investigation…”What the hell happened to Mr. Flatten’s 3 pounds?” Likely, only the officers involved in Zeke Flatten’s stop can answer that question…and they’re not talking.
Meanwhile, Mr. Flatten says that he discovered in the last week that his phone has been cloned. According to Slate Magazine, this lets the person with the clone “intercept incoming messages and send outgoing ones as if [the clone] were the original. If both phones are near the same broadcast tower, you can also listen in on calls.”
Over the weekend, Flatten wrote this reporter, “Everything I’ve done on my phone has been [sent] to another device for an undetermined amount of time. There’s evidence I’ve been under digital and physical surveillance and most likely they are aware [the clone] has been discovered.”
He also believes that his wife was followed in her vehicle and briefly cornered as an intimidation tactic. Flatten says he believes the cloning and the intimidation have occurred because someone “want[s] the rental contract and the potential fingerprint evidence.” He said that the rental car contract handled by the officers during his stop could lead to at least one other officer besides Sgt. Tatum and Officer Huffaker being involved in taking his three pounds and not entering them into evidence.
He has filed reports about the cloning and surveillance with both the police in the city he is staying in and the FBI.