Service information about a former San Diego police officer involved in the shooting of an unarmed African American man in Minneapolis is not available in California due to strict state public records act exemptions.
Only the most basic information is available about Mark Ringgenberg’s performance as an SDPD officer. The department just released his years of service (July 2008 to March 2012), his rank (Police Officer II) and his annual salary ($69,000).
Any history of citizen complaints, compliments, discipline or awards is considered confidential, an SDPD media services employee said, because “Personnel files are exempt from disclosure under California State law."
Critics say Californians deserve to know more about the officers who patrol their neighborhoods.
“I don’t believe there’s any other state that has a complete, mandatory blanket over that information,” said attorney Terry Francke, General Counsel and Executive Director of Cal Aware, a public interest group that lobbies for open records and open government. “In many states, particularly the more populous, larger states, there’s no confidentiality at all.”
Francke said no other public employees in California are protected by a state law that prohibits the release of information about their job history. In California the public does have access to complaint and discipline information about professionals licensed by the state.
“You can find out about complaints against doctors in this state, against lawyers, against public employees who have been disciplined seriously. But there’s no recourse (to get similar information about peace officers), and there’s no exception to this rule,” Franke said.
Francke, who advises media outlets, including NBC 7, on how to obtain public records and get access to public meetings, said laws protecting the employment history of California peace officers is a result of the “enormous power in the legislature of (labor) unions generally, and police unions specifically.”
He said the Democratic Party’s majority at the state capitol is “very responsive to union priorities and concerns” and both political parties are “concerned about law enforcement priorities” as voiced by labor unions that represent peace officers.
NBC 7 Investigates reached out to the San Diego Police Officers Association about the personnel exemption in California that allows for law enforcement members records to be withheld from the public. The organizations Communication Coordinator, Jacqueline Rainey, said the police group “does not have a comment at this time.”
The Police Officers Research Association of California (PORAC), a state-wide police officers’ labor group, did not reply to NBC Investigates request for comment.
Federal court records do reveal that Ringgenberg was the subject of a civil rights lawsuit filed in San Diego.
The plaintiff, Fred Clark, Jr., alleged Ringgenberg and two other SDPD officers used excessive force when they arrested him in 2010 in the Gaslamp Quarter.
In his nine-page complaint, Clark claimed Ringgenberg “violently grabbed him from behind” after Clark got into a shouting match with another man in the Gaslamp Quarter. Clark said Ringgenberg “locked (his) arms behind his back” and arrested him. He also said Ringgenberg and another officer failed to read him his Miranda rights after they “seized, handcuffed and eventually booked (Clark) at San Diego County jail,” according to the court documents.
Ringgenberg and the other officers strongly denied the allegations. The city attorney asked a judge to dismiss the case, arguing that “the facts do not support, as a matter of law, a constitutional violation of the U.S. Constitution.” The city attorney also argued that the officers’ had probable cause to arrest Clark and that “The use of force by defendants was reasonable under the totality of the circumstances.”
But before the judge ruled on the city’s motion for summary judgment, the two sides settled the case.
Clark, who was visiting from New Jersey, claimed he “endured emotional damages as he spent over twelve hours in jail and missed part of his sister’s wedding.” He demanded the payment of $200,000 for the officers’ alleged use of excessive force and other civil rights violations. Clark acted as his own attorney in the lawsuit.
According to the “Joint Motion to Dismiss” filed with the court, each side absorbed their own attorney’s fees and costs. There is no mention of any payment made to Clark by the city or any of the police officers, as a result of the settlement, and the city attorney’s office confirmed Friday that Clark did not receive any money in return for dropping his lawsuit.