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October 19, 2018
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Busy night for RP City Council

By: Katherine Minkiewicz
July 27, 2018

After much discussion Rohnert Park City Council members decided to give the go-ahead for the altercation of the city’s facility and park naming policy, which will eventually allow residents to recommend park names based on famous RP citizens as a way of memorializing those who did good in the community. Yet, perhaps one of the more popular agenda items was the closed session item, which was held to discuss and carry out counsel regarding four cases, one of them the alleged seizures of cash and marijuana near the Mendocino County border by a Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety officer, which has shaken residents and Sonoma County media. Council members could not report on any details of the closed session portion of the meeting. 

Rohnert Park Police asset seizures

Earlier this month The Press Democrat reported that a former Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety sergeant, Brendon Tatum, was under investigation for the seizure of copious amounts of cash and drugs 40 miles north of Rohnert Park near the Mendocino-Sonoma County line.

Tatum was allegedly the lead in the department’s operation of cash and valuable seizure of suspected law breakers, which brings in a profit of millions. According to a July 9 article in The Press Democrat, the total amount of confiscated items came to a whopping $2.5 million, more than any other police agency in Sonoma County.

But what is really turning heads is the questionable case that launched the investigation back in April, the supposed wrongful seizure of a Mendocino motorists’ marijuana, who claims his property was wrongfully taken by unidentified officers, according to the article.

Normally state mandates allow for the confiscation of items (civil asset forfeiture) from a person if officers have reason to believe the person is suspected of a crime such as drug trafficking and can be charged and prosecuted; however, if an officer were to take an item without ever pressing charges or with lack of reason to believe the person was involved illegally with drugs, then that may point to wrongdoing. 

The man who claims his property was robbed, Zeke Flatten, told The Press Democrat that he has been trying to figure out who the unidentified officers were and what agency they were from, as they supposedly made the stop in an unmarked car.

As reported in the same article, Flatten said he first thought the officers could have been tribal police from The Hopland Band of Pomo Indians; however, in February, about two months after the traffic stop, his name appeared on a RP Department of Public Safety police report and Tatum was cited as the author of the account. 

Tatum has since left the department, the investigation is still ongoing and RP residents are questioning the department’s police work.

Since news broke of the controversy, The Voice has received numerous letters to the editor, all expressing their shock and disappointment in the so-called incident. 

Liz Reyna wrote, “As a resident of Rohnert Park, I am very interested to know why our police officers were some 40 miles north of Rohnert Park when they got involved in seizing assets from citizens, including cash and marijuana. I am also very curious why our police department continued to practice civil asset forfeiture when most agencies scaled back or discontinued the practice… I would like our elected representatives to take responsibility for the agencies they supposedly oversee.”

Another resident, Vern Smith, wrote in a letter published in The Voice last week, “I am not only shocked, I am also disappointed after reading all of the news about a Rohnert Park police officer, paid by the taxpayers of Rohnert Park, patrolling a 40-mile stretch of Highway 101 looking for pot dealers… I am shocked that a time the city was short of officers to protect the citizens and property of the City of Rohnert Park, such an operation was taking place.”

According to a July 14 Press Democrat article regarding the ongoing saga, more people have come forward claiming their property was wrongfully taken and their rights violated.

City officials have had their lips sealed tightly shut, but met behind closed doors Tuesday to discuss the controversy with legal counsel.

Council members held the closed session for about an hour and 15 minutes and after finally emerging from the conference room at around 9:10 p.m., said there was no reportable information.

Altered park naming policy

Before council members went into closed session, they discussed a more benign item, the possibility of making changes to the facility and park naming policy that would allow parks to be named after a historic citizen following a submitted and approved recommendation.

Currently many parks throughout the city have names based off of the section they are located in. For example, the park in M section is dubbed “Magnolia Park,” and the park in H section is called, “Honeybee Park.” 

Most city facilities are also simply named according to geographic location, such as Ladybug Recreation Center in L section.

However, according to the agenda item report prepared by Cindy Bagley, Community Services Manager, the city also has “an established history of recognizing community members through various means as a way of honoring these individuals and memorializing the city’s history.”

With this is mind, the city hopes to either rename the Goldridge Recreation Center, Five Creek Park, or Willow Glen Park after Maurice Fredericks, the co-founder of Rohnert Park.

Following the presentation, city council members indicated they wanted to rename Willow Glen Park after Fredericks.

There are already several city facilities named after notable RP residents, such as the city’s first mayor, Pete Callinan and Dorothy Rohnert Spreckels.

Cities throughout the North Bay and beyond also have policies that allow them to name parks and buildings in honor of certain residents, according to Bagley.

“We did look at 11 other cities — some very small like Apple Valley and some very large like the City of Stockton. It did appear that pretty much every single one had a pretty similar process to Rohnert Park… based on geographic locations and in honoring significant people,” Bagley said.

Council members unanimously expressed interested in implementing the new naming policy, which would, “give a formal mechanism to receive and accept donations of park improvements in memory of people along with a maintenance plan.” However, they did mention that they want to be able to give the honor of naming parks and facilities not just to the deceased, but also to the living.

Council member Gina Belforte said of the plan to honor Fredericks, “I wish we could have honored him earlier, but I am glad we are doing it now.”