Wednesday Jul 21 2010
Officers file civil rights suit
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
Rocklin, Lincoln cities, police chiefs named in privacy violation suit
Two Rocklin officers are going to court against the police department and the city of Rocklin claiming their privacy was violated. Former Rocklin Officer Brandon Olivera and current Rocklin Officer Steven Ortmann filed a federal civil rights lawsuit July 7 naming the city of Rocklin, the Rocklin Police Department, Chief Mark Siemens, the city of Lincoln, the Lincoln Police Department and former Lincoln Police Chief Brian Vizzusi. The complaint alleges earlier this year the police chiefs broke the law when they allowed confidential personnel files related to previous internal affairs investigations on Olivera and Ortmann to be widely distributed within the Lincoln Police Department. “It appears Vizzusi wanted to use it for training on how to conduct internal affairs investigations,” Olivera’s attorney David E. Mastagni said. The complaint alleges Vizzusi obtained the files when he conducted the investigations as a Rocklin sergeant in 2003. Vizzusi took over the chief’s job at Lincoln Police in 2006. Penal codes, federal and state laws govern how internal affairs investigations are conducted and disseminated including the use of a judge to determine when and if files can be used. “The intent of the lawsuit is to force the departments to correct their behavior and conform to the law,” Mastagni said. Chief Mark Siemens was named in the lawsuit because he allegedly gave Vizzusi permission to use the files. “He allowed a Rocklin Police Sergeant to access and take confidential personnel records with him to another department and disseminate those into the other department,” Mastagni said. “According to Vizzusi, he had permission from Chief Siemens to do so.” Commenting for Siemens is Rocklin City Attorney Russell Hildebrand who said it’s just a matter of time before Siemens is cleared of any alleged wrongdoing. “There is no merit to any of the claims against the city of Rocklin or Chief Siemens,” Hildebrand said. “I am confident that the city and Chief Siemens will be dismissed early on in this case, as opposing counsel becomes more informed of the actual facts and circumstances relating to the allegations.” The case comes as another former Rocklin officer Rick Eaton’s wrongful termination case is expected to be heard before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and then possibly a jury trial. In that case, Eaton claims his rights to equal protection were violated by Siemens and City Manager Carlos Urrutia. Lawyers in that case point to an incident where a female Rocklin officer was allegedly fired for mishandling personnel records she was gathering for her own sexual harassment case against the city. It’s unclear how the details of that incident will be used. Mastagni said this lawsuit represents a last straw as other internal struggles have been escalating within the two departments. In March, the city of Lincoln settled a dispute with the police union before the labor board after Vizzusi allegedly violated labor rules before his sudden departure in February. “There is a pattern of both chiefs disregarding the rights of officers and the suit is intended to remedy that and prevent future violations of officers’ privacy rights and statutory protections,” Mastagni said. Mastagni said Rocklin citizens need to hold city management accountable for the number of questionable incidents coming out of the police department. “The resulting amount of litigation is disproportionate for an agency of that size,” Mastagni said of Rocklin PD. “If the public has a concern about the way things are being run, then greater oversight of the way management runs the department would certainly be appropriate.” Rocklin is poised to select a new city manager and police chief later this year as Siemens and Urrutia are expected to retire. The city could not release how much the city has spent on lawsuits by former officers. Hildebrand said that’s because the figure is unclear what claims would be covered by insurance. The new suit seeks unspecified damages. Olivera left the Rocklin Police last year to become an investigator with the District Attorney’s Office. Vizzusi is currently a lieutenant at the Galt Police Department and could not be reached for comment. The next hearing is scheduled for December.