FREEZE WARNING IN EFFECT

Mayor of Madrid, IA resigns amid talks of dissolving police force due to brutality lawsuits

MADRID, Iowa — Madrid’s mayor resigned last Friday after launching controversial discussions to dissolve his town’s police department in light of multiple federal lawsuits alleging officer misconduct, according to The Des Moines Register.

The proposal would transfer Madrid’s law enforcement duties to the Boone County sheriff.

Dirk Ringgenberg declined to discuss specifics about the proposal after he resigned Thursday as mayor.

“I think you can piece it together,” said Ringgenberg, an Army veteran who is a teaching assistant at Iowa State University. “I was named in one of the lawsuits as the mayor, and you can probably see what I’ve done to try to correct things. But now I’ve resigned.”

The lawsuits accuse the city of Madrid of hiring or maintaining the employment of officers with “checkered” histories who have continued to engage in a pattern of professional or criminal wrongdoing against citizens.

Madrid Police Chief Rick Tasler was suspended by the City Council for five days in 2010 following a series of online videos that showed him pointing a handgun at a sparring partner’s head.

And Madrid Officer Nick Millsap in 2007 pleaded guilty to an aggravated misdemeanor charge of animal abuse for his part shooting seven dogs that were removed from a home when he was the police chief of Hamburg.

In one of the lawsuits, the city late last year agreed to pay a $50,000 settlement to Madrid resident Jamie Graham, 58.

Graham alleged the officers were involved in 2015 incidents in which they assaulted him unjustly. Graham, who has several drug convictions on his record, outlined a series of threats and intimidations he said he received from the officers in the town of 2,600 people.

In one situation, Graham accused Tasler and Madrid Officer Neal Cooley of holding his arms while Millsap elbowed him in the head and left him bruised and bloody.

In a second and ongoing lawsuit, Woodard resident Justin Brewer, 34, made similar allegations: He said Tasler held him while Millsap punched him in the face in 2016.

Brewer was never charged and sustained injuries to his jaw that require physical therapy, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that Millsap wouldn’t identify himself to Brewer.

It also states that Tasler was upset that agents from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation had been called to investigate the matter, later calling Brewer on his cell phone and warning him “about spreading false reports about what happened that night,” according to the lawsuit.

Brewer’s lawsuit does not indicate the outcome of the DCI investigation. However, the DCI on Friday provided the Register with a summary of the review conducted by Boone County Attorney Daniel Kolacia following the investigation.

Kolacia’s summary outlines the following events:

Brewer was belligerent and refused to leave a beer tent after he pushed his way to the front of a line and was denied service because it was after last call.

Police were called. Millsap struck Brewer because officers believed they were going to be assaulted.

The use of force was reasonable given the circumstances known to the officers at the time, Kolacia concluded.

Des Moines attorney Glen Downey, who represents both Graham and Brewer, said he is filing a third lawsuit against the department involving another Madrid resident who alleges police misconduct.

“What you see in Madrid is a fractured community,” Downey said, noting community concern about the future of its police force. “What I can tell you is if there is no oversight and the only option is federal lawsuits, then that’s what’s going to be done.”

Tasler declined to comment Friday.

Millsap resigned from the force last last year. He said Friday that he couldn’t discuss the Brewer case because it was ongoing. He maintains the allegations against him in the Graham case are “nowhere close to being factual.”

“It kind of becomes a cash-grab and a way to make money for attorneys,” Millsap said about the lawsuit. “It’s unfortunate the taxpayers had to foot the bill for what equated to a justified use of force and arrest.”

All Madrid officers now wear body cameras, according to the City Council’s minutes from last year.

Madrid City Clerk Mary Jo Reese referred questions to Councilman Kurt Kruse, who she said likely will be appointed interim mayor during the council’s meeting Monday.

“All I can say is he (Ringgenberg) is involved in a lawsuit and he resigned,” Kruse said.

Boone County Sheriff Gregg Elsberry did not immediately return calls Friday.

The agenda for Monday’s council meeting includes Ringgenberg’s resignation. It does not include discussion about the future of the city’s police force.

There is, however, a public comment portion of the meeting, and some Madrid residents plan to speak about the town’s police.

“This is going to take away from the safety in town,” Madrid resident Truen Olson posted on Facebook, urging residents to speak against dismantling the police department.

The council meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the community room across from Madrid City Hall, 304 S. Water St.