Rohnert Park Payouts Set to Top $1.8 Million Over Marijuana and Cash Seizures

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Payouts to settle lawsuits over questionable marijuana and cash seizures along Highway 101 by a group of Rohnert Park police officers are set to top $1.8 million. (Adam Grossberg/KQED)

Rohnert Park city leaders are set to vote Tuesday on two settlement agreements with eight men who sued the city over hundreds of pounds of marijuana and $55,000 they say was unlawfully seized during traffic stops.

Huedell Freeman, a cannabis cultivator based in Mendocino who said Rohnert Park police officers took 47 pounds of his legal product, will receive $287,500. Seven other drivers who jointly filed suit against the city will split a $1,175,000 settlement. In August, the city settled with a Texas-based man named Zeke Flatten for $415,000.

“The case has conditionally resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the parties,” was all the plaintiffs’ attorney Izaak Schwaiger would say about the case.

Rohnert Park Assistant City Manager Don Schwartz wrote in an email that the settlements are in the best interests of the city, as they are less costly than continued litigation, but do not indicate liability or responsibility on the city's part.

KQED first reported on this pattern of suspicious seizures in 2018 after several drivers came forward with corresponding stories alleging that Rohnert Park police officers pulled them over 40 miles north of their jurisdiction for the purpose of taking their cash or marijuana.

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Although Freeman said he couldn’t comment on the settlement, it should finally bring an end to his three-year struggle to get back the cannabis — a year’s worth of income — that he said was unlawfully taken from him during a December 2016 traffic stop.

The joint lawsuit filed by seven motorists in August alleges that former Rohnert Park officers Jacy Tatum, Joseph Huffaker and Christopher Snyder collectively took more than 330 pounds of marijuana from them and seized $55,000 in cash but never appropriately documented, destroyed or returned the cash or cannabis.

In an unusual legal move, the suit made RICO allegations — stating that the officers were basically acting like an organized crime ring by conspiring to extort drivers and obstruct justice.

“The primary officers alleged to have been involved in inappropriate interdiction incidents are no longer with the City,” Schwartz wrote. “There have been no similar allegations against the City since 2017.”

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Former Sgt. Jacy Tatum, the officer at the center of the allegations, left the department in June 2018 after the city launched an internal affairs investigation. Then-director Brian Masterson retired in August 2018, and the city forced out former officer Joseph Huffaker in March 2019.

A federal jury awarded a Rohnert Park couple $145,000 in damages in November 2019 in a separate case involving Tatum illegally searching their home.

In the past year, Schwartz said the city's public safety department has “completed a restructuring to improve oversight and accountability and strengthened policies related to seizure, evidence storage, asset seizure requirements, video surveillance and report writing.”

The money for these settlement agreements will be paid for by its insurer, Redwood Empire Municipal Insurance Fund.