LA County Sheriff may release Ruben Salazar death files

Ruben Salazar
Ruben Salazar
Photo courtesy cindylu/Flickr CC

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Forty years ago this month a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy killed Los Angeles Times journalist Ruben Salazar. LA County Sheriff Lee Baca said today he’s decided to reconsider a decision to keep the investigation records sealed.

A tear gas projectile a sheriff’s deputy fired pierced Ruben Salazar’s head and killed him. The L.A. Times columnist was resting in an East L.A. bar after a Vietnam War protest became violent. A probe found no criminal intent on the part of the sheriff’s deputy who shot the canister.

L.A. Times reporter Robert Lopez said he seeks to resolve unanswered questions - such as why the deputy chose a wall-piercing missile and not one designed for crowds. To help fill in the gaps, Lopez formally requested the sheriff’s department’s Salazar files five months ago.

"I asked for all memos, reports, intelligence files, and archived 16 mm film footage the Sheriff’s department shot that day," he said.

Sheriff Lee Baca turned down Lopez’s request. Baca said internal investigations are confidential, and there aren’t many staffers available to respond. The sheriff has reconsidered, spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

"Homicide is examining all the boxes, eight boxes full of documents, reports," Whitmore said.

Now Baca wants to see a detailed review of the Salazar file contents before he offers a second answer.

"They need to all be looked at then they need to be copied, then they all have to be copied, then they all have to be redacted, as if they’re going to be released," Whitmore said.

This month, activists plan to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the August 29th antiwar protest. For the people who remember those times, UC Santa Barbara historian Mario Garcia said, Ruben Salazar’s become a cult figure because many people suspect that law enforcement didn’t want Salazar to report police abuse against Mexican Americans. "Until the record is made open and clear, these conspiracy issues will continue to be there."

Garcia said those questions cloud Salazar’s formidable journalistic achievements. That’s changing. Two years ago the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp to honor Ruben Salazar, in a series that also memorialized journalists Eric Sevareid and Martha Gellhorn.