Ex-Rohnert Park police sergeant who led city’s drug interdiction team pleads guilty to extortion
The former Rohnert Park police sergeant who federal prosecutors say was at the center of a yearslong conspiracy to extort cash and drugs from motorists at traffic stops in Sonoma and Mendocino counties has pleaded guilty to three charges that could land him in prison for years.
Brendan “Jacy” Tatum, who led the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety’s drug interdiction team for several years between 2014 and his resignation in 2018, pleaded guilty in a San Francisco courtroom Wednesday to extortion in his role as a peace officer, as well as falsifying police reports and tax evasion.
The hearing before Judge Maxine Chesney lasted just 30 minutes, according to court records.
“What compelled him to plead guilty is that he is guilty,” Stuart Hanlon, Tatum’s lawyer, said in an interview with The Press Democrat Thursday. “He didn’t want to go through a trial. He wanted to get this over with and face the consequences of this really bad part of his life.”
A federal grand jury indicted Tatum and his former partner, ex-Rohnert Park Officer Joseph Huffaker, in September for their involvement in alleged illegal drug and cash seizures targeting motorists far beyond Rohnert Park city limits.
Federal prosecutors said that in 2016 and 2017, the two officers and others shook down drivers on Highway 101 for their cash, pot and property, and at times pretended to be agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. They would then allow motorists to go if they did not contest the seizures, and did not report the contraband to their department.
According to the complaint against them filed in court in March, the two Rohnert Park officers allegedly conspired to extort a total of at least $3,700 in cash and 60 pounds of marijuana with a value of at least $85,000.
The department reported taking in more than $2.4 million between 2015 and 2017 through asset forfeitures, more than any other local law enforcement agency.
In 2015, the same year Tatum was promoted to sergeant, he was awarded “Officer of the Year” for his work on drug interdiction cases. Then-Rohnert Park Councilman Amy Ahanotu, who was mayor at the time, complimented Tatum for his passion for combating illegal drug activity during a March 2015 council meeting.
Following the conspiracy allegations first reported in 2018 by North Coast journalist Kym Kemp and KQED and broadened in an investigation by The Press Democrat, the Rohnert Park agency was thrown into tumult. Tatum resigned amid an internal investigation and then-Public Safety Director Brian Masterson abruptly retired. Huffaker was paid $75,000 to resign in 2019 after an internal investigation found he had engaged in misconduct. He has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges.
In early 2020, Rohnert Park paid $1.5 million to settle federal civil rights lawsuits from eight drivers who said Tatum and Huffaker, among other unnamed officers, robbed them of money and marijuana after they were pulled over on Highway 101 near the Mendocino County line.
The city ended its drug interdiction program targeting motorists in early 2017, according to city officials, though records reviewed by The Press Democrat for its investigation showed nearly $800,000 in asset seizures reported by the city that year, more than every other Sonoma County agency, including the California Highway Patrol, combined.
Masterson before he retired refused to answer questions from The Press Democrat about the allegations surrounding Tatum and Rohnert Park’s drug interdiction program.
Rohnert Park Mayor Gerard Giudice said he was pleased Tatum accepted responsibility for his crimes.
“It’s great that he pleaded guilty and that he is willing to pay the price of incarceration,” he said, “and that he understands that.”
Giudice said the former officers and their misdeeds are in the city’s rear-view mirror. The public safety department is now led by Tim Mattos, who was appointed in 2018 and has instituted new accountability and transparency standards to restore public trust and prevent future rogue actors on the police force, Giudice said.
“If you take a look at our program for accountability in law enforcement, you go right on down the list, whether it’s the audit or the … diversity equity and inclusion training, our SAFE team not sending cops with guns to crisis calls,” he said. “I think the city has really made an outstanding effort.”
Tatum’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 9. He initially faced a maximum sentence of 65 years in prison. Hanlon says his client’s prison time will likely be shorter.
“I don’t think he is looking at what we call double-digit years in prison. He could get five, six, seven years. He could also get less than that,” Hanlon said.
Tatum in interviews with The Press Democrat in 2018 rejected allegations from motorists that he had extorted money and drugs or otherwise illegally profited from his police work.
“That is their opinion, but I disagree with their opinion,” Tatum said at the time. “I served and protected my community and made a positive impact and changed people’s lives for the positive, the best I could.”
But Hanlon emphasized Thursday that Tatum was now willing and ready to own up to his crimes and the shadow they cast on his 15-year career as a Rohnert Park officer.
“I know Jacy is devastated and humiliated by what has occurred. He wants to make no excuses for what he did,” Hanlon said.
Tatum also will face fines for the more than $400,000 in income he did not report on his taxes and will be required to forfeit any money he gained from the marijuana he illegally seized and sold. The court will determine whether victims will be paid restitution and how much that restitution will be.
Staff Writer Lori A. Carter contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Emily Wilder at 707-521-5337 or email@example.com. On Twitter @vv1lder.