Man Who Alleges His Humboldt County Marijuana Was Stolen by Police Filed a Federal Lawsuit Friday
Zeke Flatten, a former police officer who alleged that law enforcement officers stole three pounds of Humboldt County cannabis from him last December, has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Rohnert Park, two officers that worked there, the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians, and its former police chief as well as “other co-conspirators to be identified” later.
The suit alleges that there are multiple similar victims, that the officers accessed a private information network used by law enforcement officers throughout the nation to select who to target, that a large amount of the money the officers seized was used to enrich themselves, and that some of the cannabis taken from their victims was then sold on the black market.
We broke the story last spring about Flatten’s allegations and both KQED and the Press Democrat investigated and reported further. In part, the story was responsible for this reporter winning the Unsung Hero award from the Society of Professional Journalists.Flatten told us in the story we reported earlier that when he was driving south on Hwy 101 just north of the Mendocino Sonoma County line on December 5 of 2017, two law enforcement officers, who claimed to be with the ATF, stopped Flatten and took three pounds of cannabis he says were intended for research on products he intended to develop. They then left without running a warrant check or following any of the normal procedures. The entire stop took less than five minutes.
Flatten was almost instantly suspicious that the officers were not behaving legally.
After reaching out to various law enforcement agencies to report what had happened, Flatten approached us. He told us at the time he had identified Tribal Police Chief Steve Hobb as one of the two officers within the first day. He eventually also identified Rohnert Park Officer Joseph Huffaker as the other.
In response to the stories we wrote in February, Sgt. Jacy Tatum of the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety issued a press release purporting to describe Flatten’s traffic stop. (Download and read the press release here.)However, according to Flatten’s lawsuit, Tatum referenced the wrong illegal stop. Tatum was involved in so many illegal seizures, the suit alleges, he wasn’t able to keep them straight. “Tatum’s statement to the press was too hastily contrived, and his involvement in the illegal seizures too prolific…,” reads the suit. “As a result his press release defended the wrong illegal seizure, and instead of diffusing the scrutiny plaintiff’s allegations had brought, it brought the allegations more clearly into focus.”
During our investigation this spring and later this summer, we spoke to several Humboldt County cultivators whose cannabis was taken as part of the traffic stop that Tatum actually described. They all spoke of a stop that occurred several weeks later than the one in which Flatten’s cannabis was seized.
Huffaker and Tatum were placed on administrative leave during an investigation into the allegations made by Flatten. Tatum subsequently resigned as did his superior officer, Brian Masterson. Hobb resigned from his position as the Chief of Police of the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians back in February and has been hired by Clearlake Police Department as a patrol officer.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of Flatten on Friday states that he is just one among many victims of Tatum and Huffaker. Flatten’s attorney, Izaak Schwaiger, told KQED’s Sukey Lewis Friday that the way these law enforcement officers have conducted operations in Sonoma and Mendocino counties illegally “for the better part of a decade now is wrong. It’s organized crime. And it’s got to stop.”
For those following the controversy around asset forfeiture, it is of particular interest the suit alleges that information to help target victims was gathered through a private surveillance database known as Black Asphalt, which is maintained by Desert Snow, “a for-profit entity specializing in interdiction training for police officers.” The organization has been connected before to cases where traffic stops of a dubious nature led to thousands of dollars being seized by law enforcement.
Flatten’s suit goes on to claim that Sgt. Jacy Tatum, Officer Joseph Huffaker and former Tribal Police Chief Steve Hobb, as well as others, acted “under the color of state law, and, in concert with each other” to steal his property “through the outrageous abuse of police powers” and they or people acting for them later used “surveillance, harassment, threats, and intimidation” against Flatten.
It argues that Tatum and Huffaker also “over the years seized thousands of pounds of cannabis and hundreds of thousands of dollars of currency without issuing receipts for the seizures, without making arrests for any crimes and without any official report of the forfeitures being made.” And then, the two officers “sold the seized cannabis to black market vendors.”
The suit also alleges that the City of Rohnert Park benefited from the money seized by their employees to the tune of $1.2 million dollars between 2016 and 2017 alone and by implication indicates that the money seized led the City to gloss over signals that their officers were breaking the law.
Flatten told us earlier this year that speaking out against the officers has put him and his family at risk. He believes it has led to unknown persons placing him under surveillance. Flatten alleged in previous articles that his phone was cloned allowing information to be transferred from it to another device without his knowledge. He believes his wife was followed and blocked within a dead-end street in an attempt to intimidate her. And, in this lawsuit, he alleges that a GPS device was “hardwired beneath his car’s dashboard.”During the initial traffic stop, Flatten says both officers handled his rental car paperwork. Flatten says he immediately sealed the paperwork in an envelope to preserve any fingerprint evidence. When we last spoke, over half a year after the investigation into his allegations began, Flatten told us that no law enforcement agency had yet requested to have the papers tested for fingerprints. This, he told us, made him question the thoroughness of any investigation being done.
- Former Undercover Officer Involved in Developing Cannabis Products Accuses Hopland Tribal Police Chief of Theft, Corruption, and Civil Rights Violations
- Outraged: One Man’s Two Month Quest From the FBI to the ATF to Expose What He Says Are Corrupt Police Officers in Mendocino County
- Rohnert Park Police Officers Being Investigated Following Two Incidents Where Humboldt County Cannabis Was Seized Under Suspicious Circumstances
- ‘Highway Robbery’: Drivers Allege Rohnert Park Police Illegally Seized Cannabis, Cash