Police privacy case moves forward

Court rules alleged conduct is 'sufficiently outrageous'
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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A Placer County court ruling is allowing a lawsuit against the city of Rocklin and its former police chief to move forward. Last July, Rocklin Police officer Steve Ortmann and former officer Brandon Olivera sued the city, their former chief Mark Siemens, the city of Lincoln and Lincoln’s former police chief Brian Vizzusi over alleged mishandling of their personnel files. The suit claims that when Vizzusi worked for Rocklin Police he conducted internal affairs investigations on Ortmann and Olivera concerning alleged incidents involving alcohol off-duty, then used and distributed those reports as training materials when he became the police chief in Lincoln in 2004. The Nov 17 ruling by Placer County Superior Court Commissioner Michael Jacques reads in part: “The claims, liberally construed, are at least facially or colorably actionable. The alleged conduct is sufficiently outrageous, it arguably violated defendants’ privacy rights.” The plaintiffs’ attorney, David Mastagni, said the ruling proves the officers have a case. “This ruling confirms that while police officers must place themselves in harm’s way to protect the public, they do not forfeit their constitutional rights,” Mastagni said. City Attorney Russell Hildebrand denied any wrongdoing on the part of the city or its former police chief, adding the preliminary motion is procedural in nature. “The (ruling) does not in any way suggest city liability or suggest plaintiffs have any viable claims against the city of Rocklin or former chief Siemens,” Hildebrand said. In June, the city of Lincoln paid $12,000 to settle their part in the case, but Rocklin and Siemens refused to settle. A jury may ultimately decide the lawsuit. Both Siemens and Vizzusi could be called to testify. “My clients are pursuing this suit to force the city of Rocklin to recognize that peace officer personnel files are confidential and to comply with its legal duty to protect the privacy rights of its officers,” Mastagni said. Hildebrand hopes the court will ultimately dismiss the case. “The city expects the case will be dismissed once the facts are presented,” Hildebrand said. “The city vigorously defended itself in federal court and prevailed, establishing plaintiffs have no right to privacy under federal law.” Mastagni argues the federal case was dropped because the burden of proof was more difficult. “While the federal court did dismiss the federal claims, the federal court, like the Placer (County) Superior Court, ruled that our clients have viable claims under California law,” Mastagni said. Vizzusi is currently a lieutenant with the Galt Police Department in Sacramento County. Siemens retired from the city of Rocklin in March. Olivera is now working for the California Department of Justice, while Ortmann remains employed with the Rocklin Police Department.