Northern California

Police sergeant under investigation in marijuana seizure earned reputation with freeway stops

Over nearly 15 years as a Rohnert Park police officer, Brendon Tatum led local law enforcement missions to disrupt the flow of illegal drugs into Sonoma County, netting Rohnert Park hundreds of thousands of dollars in seized assets through traffic stops.

Tatum, who goes by his middle name Jacy, built a reputation as an aggressive cop for his work stopping cars on a rural stretch of Highway 101 near the Sonoma-Mendocino county line — some 40 miles north of the city limits — in operations to find black-market marijuana, other illegal drugs and cash.

The highway runs alongside the Russian River and links the marijuana-growing Emerald Triangle region to the north and the urban San Francisco Bay Area to the south.

But the man once honored by Rohnert Park for his highway seizures is no longer employed by the city. Rohnert Park officials will not say why but confirm he is under investigation in connection with a puzzling December traffic stop and marijuana seizure across the county line in Mendocino County involving a pair of officers who six months later remain unidentified.

Tatum’s departure comes amid increasing public scrutiny of a range of his on-duty actions and persistent questions about missing cash and seized marijuana. It has raised questions about why Rohnert Park routinely sent its officers to the northern edge of the county to conduct highway seizures even with a staffing shortage and after other agencies stopped.

The attention also has spotlighted another side of Tatum’s reputation, one discussed for years among local defense attorneys who have faced off with him in court and among people who claim their rights were violated during roadside stops when their property was taken.

One is a Mendocino County cannabis dispensary owner and longtime grower, Hue Freeman, who believes Tatum illegally seized more than $65,000 worth of marijuana he was bringing to a dispensary. He said he feels emboldened to speak out about his case now that others are questioning Tatum’s policework.

“I didn’t want to be the only one out there. I didn’t want to be the tip of the spear,” said Freeman, 60.

Tatum stands by his conduct during his career as a police officer and firefighter with the Rohnert Park Public Safety Department, and he rejected characterizations of his on-duty behavior as unprofessional or unethical.

“That is their opinion, but I disagree with their opinion,” Tatum, 35, said in an interview. “I served and protected my community and made a positive impact and changed people’s lives for the positive, the best I could.”

The encounter with Freeman is among a number of troubling run-ins with Tatum described by defendants and lawyers who’ve criticized his police work, pointing to what they said were questionable traffic stops, searches and seizures.

Interviews with people he pulled over on the road, as well as a half-dozen defense attorneys and several police officers, including members of his own department, also reveal a pattern of aggressive confrontations — both with people under investigation by Tatum and with lawyers he’s accosted at their workplace and at the Sonoma County courthouse.

In the courtroom, defense attorneys have uncovered cases where Tatum violated his own department policies, including a September 2016 encounter where the sergeant repeatedly turned off his body camera while investigating a fender bender and ordered a junior officer to turn his camera off, according to court filings. Tatum then failed to properly catalogue the video, resulting in a delay of about six months in criminal proceedings against one of the drivers while police staff searched for the missing evidence, court records show. The case was dismissed June 28.

©2018 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.). Visit The Press Democrat at www.pressdemocrat.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.