Police officers in Rohnert Park, Sonoma County, California have seized more than $2.4 million in cash over the past three years. This haul from civil asset forfeiture seizures is far greater than that of any other agency in the county.
In 2016, officers brought in $1.4 million, which was 25 times what the Santa Rosa police department seized. For comparison, Santa Rosa is the largest city in Sonoma County and as a police force two-and-a-half times larger than Rohnert Park.
Many of the property seizures occurred in a rural area more than 40 miles north of Rohnert Park. This area, a remote stretch along Highway 101 far outside of Rohnert Park city limits, was targeted by police in operations to find illegal drugs. Activities in this area were led by Brendon Jacy Tatum.
Once, Tatum was celebrated in his department as “this amazing dope cop” who used civil asset forfeiture to bring a significant amount of money to the city. Since law enforcement can use civil forfeiture to seize property without bringing criminal charges, it is simple for police to take property or cash and keep it for themselves. This has led to accusations of “policing for profit” from across the political spectrum.
After it came to light that Tatum had been involved in a series of questionable activities over a number of years during seizures in this area, he was placed under investigation. Tatum then resigned his job. Despite this, he insists that he has done nothing wrong. “I served and protected my community and made a positive impact and changed people’s lives for the positive, the best I could,” he said.
One of those impacted by Tatum’s behavior is Hue Freeman, a cannabis grower and dispensary owner in Mendocino County. In December 2016, Hue was driving $65,800 of marijuana to his Sherman Oaks dispensary when he was pulled over. The officers, one of whom was Tatum, told Hue they pulled him over because the wheels of his car had touched the white fog line. They did so even though this does not constitute a traffic violation. Hue was then asked if he had cannabis in the car.
Hue was legally traveling with 47 pounds of marijuana. He showed the officers his documentation showing he was a legal grower and had made arrangements to transport the cannabis at this time. Hue put them on the phone to Hannah Nelson, his lawyer. Nelson explained she could transfer them to a sheriff’s official in Mendocino County who would vouch for Hue.
Tatum declined to speak to the official, and the officers filed no criminal charges against Hue. Nonetheless, since civil asset forfeiture laws give law enforcement the ability to seize property without criminal charges, Tatum took Hue’s cannabis.
A month later, prosecutors confirmed Hue had been following all medical marijuana rules and that his crop should not have been taken. Despite this, Hue has not been able to retrieve his property. It was not correctly accounted for when it was taken, and there is no evidence it ever arrived at Rohnert Park Police Department.
When reviewing the case, Assistant District Attorney Bill Brockley then found a judge had signed a destruction order for the marijuana just five days after Hue had been pulled over. The request had been made by Rohnert Park Police Department.
When asked to describe the situation, Hue said, “They stole from us. That’s what they did.”
Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
If your lawful property has been seized, then you should hire a lawyer. Contact us to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of Florida’s most experienced civil forfeiture defense attorneys.