On Friday, March 12, the Northern California U.S. Attorney’s Office unsealed criminal charges against two former police officers with the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety in connection with the department’s headline-grabbing drug seizure program.
The U.S. Attorney’s charges join previous civil lawsuits against the city and numerous news articles alleging that former Rohnert Park officers Jacy Tatum and Joseph Huffaker illegally confiscated hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cannabis and cash from drivers on Highway 101 while working as part of the city’s interdiction team. These programs, under which law enforcement officers can seize criminally-acquired cash and drugs under certain circumstances, are relatively common in California. The alleged problem with Rohnert Park’s program was that the two officers went far outside the city’s rules.
For instance, while the officers reported some of the drugs and cash they seized to the department, the federal charges allege that Tatum deposited at least $443,000 in several bank accounts during his time running the interdiction team. The officers also filed false reports to cover their tracks, the U.S. Attorney’s complaint alleges.
While the U.S. Attorney’s complaint adds more details about the officers’ alleged scheme, the scope of the problem within the department and the details of the city’s full response to the allegations about Tatum and Hufaker remain unclear.
In 2019 and early 2020, the city settled several civil cases before they reached trial, limiting the amount of information which has come forth about the scope of the problem in the department.
Izaak Schwaiger, an attorney who represented clients in numerous cases against Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety, including in civil cases related to the interdiction program, says that the U.S. Attorney’s charges shed some additional light on the scope of the program, but did not change his overall understanding of the officers’ actions.
“The US Attorney’s office was able to make the allegations [we made in our civil case] more thoroughly because of their access to search warrants and law enforcement investigative techniques… they’re able to track down the money and see where it went,” Schweiger said in an interview.
One thing that still remains unclear is whether the city investigated the entire Public Safety Department in the wake of the allegations about the interdiction team.
In late 2018, multiple Bay Area news outlets reported that Rohnert Park had hired Howard Jordan, a former Oakland Police Chief-turned-police auditor. At the time, the city’s drug seizure program was drawing plenty of negative attention, with the media accusing the officers of committing “highway robbery.”
For instance, KQED reported in December 2018 that Jordan was hired to “investigate the department’s drug and cash seizure practices and policies” and indicated that Jordan was expected to make a presentation to the Rohnert Park City Council at an unspecified date.
But, nearly two-and-a-half years later, none of the information that Jordan dug up while auditing the department has become public—and the city seems to want to keep it that way.
In late January, the Bohemian filed a public records request that the city release Jordan’s auditing contract and invoices describing his work for the city since Jan. 1, 2018.
In a Feb. 8 response, deputy city clerk Elizabeth Machado told the Bohemian that the city did not have any contracts with Jordan or any company employing him for law enforcement auditing work. Curiously, the city did release heavily redacted invoices for payments the city made to Jordan between Feb. 2019 and March 2020, totalling just over $56,000.
While the invoices amount to an acknowledgment that Jordan has done some kind of work for the city in recent years, the documents are so heavily redacted that it is impossible to tell what exactly Jordan did.
Without the documents, two troubling possibilities come to mind. It seems that the city either decided to pay Jordan to complete confidential auditing work without a contract of any kind; or the city does have a contract with Jordan and is now attempting to hide its existence from public view.
On Thursday, March 18, deputy city manager Don Schwartz told the Bohemian that the city had “no comment at this time” about Jordan’s work for the city. Rohnert Park Mayor Gerard Giudice, Vice Mayor Jackie Elward and Jordan did not respond to requests for comment.
Despite several attention-grabbing news reports and civil cases outlining Tatum and Hufaker’s involvement in Rohnert Park’s “highway robbery” case, District Attorney Jill Ravitch declined to press charges against anyone involved in the case. Schweiger says that he offered to give Ravitch’s office information about the case, but that Ravitch’s office declined to accept it and never pressed charges.
Brian Staebell, the chief deputy district attorney who serves as Ravitch’s spokesperson, did not respond to a request for comment on Schweiger’s allegation or Ravitch’s decision not to pursue a case against any of the officers involved in the alleged drug seizure scheme.
But, with the possibility of more federal investigations looming over the city, North Bay residents may soon learn more about the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety.