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Former US Cops Accused of Extorting Money, Pot From Highway Drivers Under Threats of Arrest

In this Sept. 21, 2018, file photo, Commander Aaron Johnson, of the Rohnert Park Police Department takes questions from the media during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif.
(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

In this Sept. 21, 2018, file photo, Commander Aaron Johnson, of the Rohnert Park Police Department takes questions from the media during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Police officers threatened to arrest people they pulled over if they didn’t hand over their pot and cash. The officers did not report the stops or submit the seized items as evidence, officials said.

Two former police officers face extortion charges for allegedly pulling over motorists on a Northern California highway and taking their marijuana and money under threat of arrest, federal prosecutors said. Brendon Jacy Tatum and Joseph Huffaker were part of a team of officers assigned to seize illegal drugs from drivers on a stretch of U.S. 101 in Sonoma County north of San Francisco, according to a statement Friday from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Stuart Hanlon, Tatum’s attorney, told the San Francisco Chronicle that his client maintains his innocence and that Tatum has been a “well-respected officer for many years.” An attorney for Huffaker could not be reached Saturday. Prosecutors said the two former Rohnert Park police officers threatened to arrest people they pulled over if they didn’t hand over their pot and cash. The officers did not report the stops or submit the seized items as evidence, officials said.

But the traffic stops made between 2015 and 2017 were recorded on video by the officers’ body cameras, investigators found. Officials said the two continued to stop motorists even after the drug-seizure program ended when California legalized recreational use of marijuana in 2016. In December 2017, Tatum and an unnamed officer identified themselves as agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and took 23 pounds of marijuana from a driver, prosecutors said.

Tatum and Huffaker are charged with conspiracy to commit extortion under color of authority, and Tatum was charged with falsifying records in a federal investigation and tax evasion. Each defendant faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Both defendants resigned. Rohnert Park city officials said they cooperated fully with the federal investigation, the Chronicle reported.

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“The City of Rohnert Park does not tolerate corrupt and unethical practices within the ranks of its employees, particularly its sworn peace officers and those officers involved in today’s charges are no longer employed by the City,” city officials said in a statement Friday.