In December 2017, Zeke Flatten was pulled over while driving on Highway 101 in California. He was traveling south through Humboldt County and was stopped a little way north of the Mendocino County line. Zeke was not speeding, nor breaking any other traffic laws
At first, the officers did not identify which law enforcement department they worked for. They did not wear departmental badges, nor did they have name tags. They had pulled him over in an unmarked, black Police Interceptor.
As Zeke later said, “At this point, I really felt something was wrong.” Zeke, a resident of Texas, was traveling in a rental car. He showed the officers the car rental agreement and his driver’s license.
He let the officers know he had three pounds of cannabis with him. He had picked it up from a grower in Humboldt County and was transporting it to Santa Rosa for testing. He planned to bring several cannabis products to market once the recreational use of the drug became legal in California in January 2018.
Zeke said the officers then said they worked for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. While he attempted to show officers his prescription for medical marijuana, they had no interest in looking at it. The officers took the cannabis and left Zeke by the roadside. He was not charged with any crime, nor was he arrested.
Law enforcement was able to take Zeke’s property using a process known as civil asset forfeiture. This is a legal procedure where police may seize an individual’s property or cash when it is suspected of being involved in a crime. In most states, criminal charges are not required for property to be seized. In California, police may keep at least 66.25% of the proceeds of civil asset forfeitures, leading to accusations of “policing for profit.”
It turns out that, although Zeke was pulled over on the Humboldt County border, it was officers from the Rohnert Park Police Department 50 miles south who had pulled him over. Back in July, I reported on the aggressive use of civil asset forfeiture by the Rohnert Park PD. I also reported on how several officers, including Officer Tatum, were implicated in irregularities while pulling drivers over and seizing property.
Although Zeke doesn’t believe Tatum was present when his property was seized, it was Tatum who wrote the police report for the incident. Tatum’s report diverges from what happened in several important respects. It claims Zeke was driving a white Mercedes without license plates. In fact, Zeke was driving a Kia which did, indeed, have license plates. The report claims hundreds of containers of hash were found in the car together with 30 pounds of cannabis. Zeke had no hash on him, only three pounds of cannabis. Further, the report claims a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer assisted during the incident. The CHP denies this.
Zeke feels that Tatum embellished the report in order to cover up the irregularities in the seizure of his property.
“I felt very strongly that I was robbed by legitimate police officers,” said Zeke.
The City of Rohnert Park is currently investigating this and several other incidents involving the Rohnert Park PD and Officer Tatum. Tatum has now resigned. Once the department became embroiled in this controversy, Brian Masterson, head of the unified Police and Fire Department in Rohnert Park, took early retirement.
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.