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Report: Journalist Died Due to Deputies' Mistakes

Associated Press

February 22, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The daughter of a journalist killed 41 years ago by a tear gas missile fired by sheriff’s deputies said Sunday that a new report from a civilian watchdog agency “asks more questions than it answers” about Ruben Salazar’s death.

In death, Salazar’s name became a rallying point for Mexican-American civil rights activists protesting law enforcement’s treatment of Hispanics. Since then, parks, schools and even a U.S. Postal Service stamp have been named for him.

The report, the first outside examination of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s records of the killing, said that deputies made tactical mistakes that led to Salazar’s death, but that he was not targeted.

“After 40 years of secrecy, self-serving analysis and incomplete information, I, my family and the public deserve more than what it provides,” Stephanie Salazar Cook said in a written statement.

The former Los Angeles Times columnist and news director at KMEX-TV was hit in the head with the missile as he sat in a bar during a 1970 anti-Vietnam war that had grown violent.

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Journalist Ruben Salazar, right,… (Ruben Salazar Archive/ Media, Democracy & Policy /The University of Arizona)

The 20-page draft report obtained by the Times from the Office of Independent Review focuses anew on the circumstances of his death, which have been hotly disputed.

Cook called on Sheriff Lee Baca to release all the records to the public “so they can be reviewed at length by historians, lawyers and other experts.”

Cook said she and other family members were allowed access to the file last year, but had to sign a confidentiality agreement.

The independent review was ordered by Baca in August after the newspaper pressed him to unseal the Salazar files. The report was scheduled to be released Tuesday.

It said that deputies made tactical blunders that led up to the killing, and that the department’s stonewalling afterward fueled skepticism. Salazar was in a bar when a deputy fired the missile, hitting and killing him at age 42.

The Times said the report, which provided unreleased details about the case, did not assign blame or wrongdoing. Its goal was to review a historic incident from the perspective of modern-day policing and current department policies and procedures.

The report noted that its conclusions were limited on the key issue in Salazar’s death — whether he was a victim of a plot by authorities — because detectives at the time refused to consider theories that the newsman was killed intentionally. As a result, they failed to ask questions that might have prevented the speculation and conspiracy theories that still overshadow the case.

“The failure to focus on any aspects of the incident beyond the immediate question of how Mr. Salazar died and the lack of any subsequent internal review by the department, however, left many questions unanswered and opened the door for decades of speculation about what the department may have been trying to hide,” the report said.

The Sheriff’s Department “circled the wagons around its deputies, offered few explanations and no apologies” in the aftermath of Salazar’s death, the report stated. “That posture fueled the skeptics.”

The department had concluded its investigation finding no wrongdoing by its deputies.

Even by the policing standards of the 1970s, the deputy’s use of the tear gas missile seemed “contrary to . department training,” the report found.

In the weeks before he was killed, Salazar was investigating allegations of misconduct by Los Angeles police and sheriff’s deputies. The journalist had told friends that he thought he was being followed by authorities and feared they might do something to discredit his reporting.

In the end, the watchdog concluded, Salazar simply may have been in the “wrong place at the wrong time” as deputies clashed with protesters on Whittier Boulevard after riots broke out during an explosive anti-war rally.


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