Rohnert Park hires police auditor to investigate its public safety department
Rohnert Park has hired a police auditor to conduct a broad inquiry into the practices and policies of its public safety department amid a series of complaints about the seizure of drugs and money on Highway 101 by officers operating far outside city limits.
The city has tapped former Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan to investigate specific complaints from people who had their property taken during traffic stops conducted by Rohnert Park police personnel.
The inquiry will include a wider examination of police practices and policies, City Manager Darrin Jenkins said Thursday.
“We need to get to the bottom of things, what was happening,” Jenkins said. “My intention is to figure out concrete things we can do to improve our practices and procedures in our department. I’m keeping an open mind.”
The announcement comes three weeks after The Press Democrat began publishing a series of stories examining the city’s aggressive program to confiscate drugs and money by pulling over drivers on Highway 101, often near the Sonoma-Mendocino border 40 miles to the north of the city.
Over the past three years, Rohnert Park’s Department of Public Safety seized assets worth $2.4 million, more than any other law enforcement agency in Sonoma County.
The department’s lead enforcer in those highway stops, Sgt. Brendon “Jacy” Tatum, resigned last month amid an investigation targeting him and another officer, Joseph Huffaker, who remains on paid administrative leave.
The city’s public safety chief, Brian Masterson, announced his retirement last week. His final day is Aug. 22.
Jenkins said he made the decision to hire a consultant to conduct an audit of the public safety department about two weeks ago and he informed Masterson once he had selected Jordan to do the work.
“He’s an expert in police practices and procedures,” Jenkins said of Jordan. “I want someone from the outside to find out what we can do.”
Jenkins would not say how many complaints the city had received about the seizure of drugs and money by its officers.
In June, the city acknowledged it was investigating Tatum and Huffman following complaints from a driver who was pulled over on Highway 101 in southern Mendocino County last December. The driver, Zeke Flatten, said the unidentified officers took 3 pounds of cannabis from his SUV but did not cite or arrest him. The department is looking into what role, if any, Tatum and Huffaker played in the stop. Tatum included Flatten’s name on an official police report.
But there are other drivers who have filed complaints about Tatum with the city about highway traffic stops, including Mendocino County cannabis farmer Hue Freeman. Freeman filed a complaint with the city after he was pulled over by Tatum near Cloverdale in December 2016. Tatum seized 47 pounds of cannabis from Freeman, who said he was bringing marijuana he grew lawfully in Mendocino County to a dispensary.
Freeman said it is a “huge relief” to know that public agencies like Rohnert Park are examining their procedures for highway traffic stops and property seizures under asset forfeiture laws.
“Farmers that are following all laws and complying with the laws have worked long and hard to do the right thing,” Freeman said. “To not have to worry about just simply transporting a legal product to a legal outlet is huge.”
Santa Rosa criminal defense attorney Steve Gallenson, who has aired his concerns about Tatum’s conduct with the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office, called Rohnert Park’s effort to evaluate its police practices and highway interdiction missions “a worthy goal.”
“But it depends on how objective the person is,” Gallenson said. “If this auditor has suggestions, they may not be liked by the Rohnert Park police department.”
Jordan retired from the Oakland Police Department in 2013 after 25 years with the agency, including nearly two years as its chief.
Jordan, reached by phone Friday, said has previously worked as a police auditor for the Sunnyvale Public Safety Department - which like Rohnert Park has unified policing and firefighting functions - and the Madison Police Department in Wisconsin, and he’s finalizing auditing work he’s been conducting for the Santa Clara Police Department.
“I’ve also been on the other end - I’ve been the subject of many audits at the Oakland Police Department,” Howard said.
Masterson and Jordan had crossed paths in Alameda County but did not work together.
Masterson, 59, was hired in 2008 to become director of the Rohnert Park Public Safety Department, having retired as a captain after 27 years with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, where he served as commander of the Port of Oakland and the Oakland Airport.
Jordan said he would not have taken on the work if he’d had a prior professional relationship with Masterson.
Jenkins said the city respects its public safety officers and “it is because of that respect that we will make sure any misdeeds are uncovered and any recommended improvements are implemented.”
Jordan will be paid ?$150 per hour under the city’s contract, which is open in its scope and has no end date, Jenkins said.
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jjpressdem.