“This is about corrupt police officers that are doing something far worse than growing or possessing cannabis.”
These are the words of Zeke Flatten, a former Texas police officer and one of four plaintiffs in a new lawsuit which alleges that law enforcement officials from at least four separate agencies conspired to commit “hundreds of acts of extortion, theft, and robbery of marijuana, guns and cash” during illegal raids of their properties and person in 2017.
As detailed in a blistering new investigative piece published earlier this month under a team byline at NBC Bay Area, Flatten and a trio of Mendocino County cannabis farmers are reportedly filing a new federal lawsuit which alleges “widespread theft, corruption, and coverups” among law enforcement officials tasked with policing Northern California’s cannabis-famous Emerald Triangle region.
If these allegations prove true, a major reckoning may be necessary when it comes to evaluating the usefulness of a “police-first” approach to protecting legal pot.
Zeke Flatten certainly did not feel protected when two men impersonating federal law enforcement officers apparently enacted a successful ploy to pull him over and rob him of three pounds of marijuana during a drive through southern Mendocino County four years ago. According to Flatten, one of the men who allegedly robbed him is former Rohnert Park police officer Joseph Huffaker, who was, notably, indicted earlier this year on federal charges.
In this new lawsuit, it is also suggested that the other, never previously identified robber in Flatten’s complaint is actually former Mendocino County Sheriff’s Sgt. Bruce Smith.
According to NBC Bay Area, Smith “ran the Mendocino County marijuana eradication team and now works as an investigator for the Lake County District Attorney’s Office.” Far from simply relying on the garb and body language of law enforcement officials to intimidate a mark, the alleged involvement of Huffaker and Smith in Flatten’s robbery would suggest a coordinated effort that could really only be undertaken by individuals who would know exactly what to do and say in such situations — perhaps from their own past experience in the field.
The same could be said of the complaints made by the lawsuit’s other three plaintiffs: Chris Gurr, Ann Marie Borges and Will Knight.
All three were apparently making their way through the legal Mendocino County permitting process when, in 2017, “officials from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office raided their farms, claiming they were illegally diverting water,” NBC Bay Area reports. The plaintiffs instead allege that these claims of water diversion issues were in fact just a pretext to conduct raids and seize cash, guns, and cannabis.
Again, former Mendocino County Sheriff’s Sgt. Bruce Smith is named as a relevant party, in this case as the only officer from the department who was actually present for the raids, which took place on property owned by Knight as well as property owned by Gurr and Borges together. According to NBC Bay Area, another alleged culprit, now-retired Fish and Wildlife Lt. Steve White, was also present at both raids and is named in the lawsuit alongside Smith.
Acknowledging that these allegations still await their day in a court of law and thus remain legally unfounded, the potential issues that arise assuming such activities did take place are nothing short of seismic. Beyond the widespread lack of faith this series of actions, if true, would inevitably instill in the greater cannabis cultivator community — one, it must be noted, which was already primed to distrust law enforcement in all shapes and forms from the get-go — the reasoned motive for these alleged thefts is that those in question were stealing legal cannabis for the purpose of selling it through unregulated channels.
As a consequence, law enforcement veterans would not only be guilty of committing crimes directly against licensed cannabis growers, but indirectly as well in the form of helping to foster and sustain the very black market that they claim to be eradicating. It’s rare that the word egregious feels understated, but this might be one such instance.
As more information on the matter continues to comes to light, it will be critical to see whether larger legislative bodies choose to make note of these alleged crimes and the despicable abuse of power they would, if true, represent.