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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.


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.

  • Marvin_max50


    over 3 years ago


    Looking at this from both sides I understand the need for full disclosure. Has anyone thought that the reason the Sheriff "Circled the wagons", was because he realilzed a lack of training that led to this, but we all know the press at that time would have had the deputy taking delliberate aim at the side of his head and firing the "missle" to directly "murder" him. Are there tactics that need to be fixed, I'm sure there are. Did it look bad, oh yeah. I feel for the family, do i think the Sheriff made a bad decision, face value, yes, but we don't know his specific reasons. NOONE will win in this one, everyone loses.

  • Crumb_passin_thru_02_1__max50


    over 3 years ago


    I agree with Dallascrane and DonnaLynn.

    To those who say "Why bring this up now? Why does it matter?" If it gives the family the answers denied them for 40+ years, that's why it matters. I recognize LE has an oft-valid beef with the slant of news reporting, but it isn't always about that.

  • Justice-400_max50


    over 3 years ago


    Bump Dallascrane. I don't blame the family for wanting answers.

  • Vpsomourningband_max50


    over 3 years ago


    For Salazar's family, I hope this brings them some measure of peace... "closure"??? This is one that y'all need to step back and look at the picture from another perspective. The "sheriff circled the wagons around his deputies" -- Awesome, but fueled the suspicions. All the skeptics and, I'm sure, rumors along with Salazar's telling family and friends he thought he was being followed by the authorities! Well, that'll make any family suspicious and wanting the truth. So, after 41 years the watchdog group concluded "wrong place at the wrong time." Now we shall see if this situation and Mr. Salazar will be laid to rest.

  • Cp2013_-_copy__2__max50


    over 3 years ago


    oops....wrong place, wrong time

  • Clone_trooper_max50


    over 3 years ago


    A tragic accident. Why bring it up now, after 41 years?

  • Badge__hat_max50


    over 3 years ago


    41 years ago???? Waste of time trying to rehash it all now. Move forward.

  • Johnf_max50


    over 3 years ago


    Looks like a paranoid journalist walked into the danger zone to make himself famous & it resulted in an unfortunate incident.

  • Adp_max50


    over 3 years ago


    ....and we need to revisit the past why? Sadly, we learn by our mistakes. Another question, why was were my LASD brother's there at all, and felt the need to use tear gas? Hmmm, perhaps Sr Salazar should not put himself in that situation. Move on already. Frickin' ASSociated Press Libs.

  • Silver_warrior_max50


    over 3 years ago


    Looks like a daughter is still trying to find a way into the sheriff's bank account.

  • 1979_max50


    over 3 years ago


    TrafficCop, it is not a true missile but they called them that because it looked very much like one. Also kinda looked like a huge bullet. They did fire an aluminum pointed projectile that if they hit a person could easily kill them. Imagine a solid 2" diameter, (which is about what a 20mm round looked like) and about 6"-8" long metal projectile that was pointed would do hitting a person. We used the same weapon, grenade launcher, as the military did in Vietnam and was commonly called a "Blooper"

  • Images_max160_sq90_max50


    over 3 years ago


    They're launched from police motorcycles, TrafficCop. You didn't know? They call them Surface-to-Surface-Sidewinders. It aids them in traffic stops. No need for Bait Cars when you have an SSS on your bike.

  • 1979_max50


    over 3 years ago


    What are they trying to do? In a year with so many of our Officers are being killed they pull this crap up from the past? It was an accident. There is no chance in hell that a Deputy went looking for or somehow was told or recognized this reporter was sitting in a bar and was able to aim a teargas gun accurately enough to hit this subject in the head while sitting in a bar! I have fired these old type of grenade launchers that were in use back then and if you had a brain in your head you aimed in the direction or at where ever you wanted the projectile to go and then moved your head completely away from the launcher before you fired it. If you tried to aim it and fire it you would split your head open from the recoil! All of our launchers had the sights removed because they would kick back and split your head wide open if you were not careful!

  • New_picture__1__max50


    over 3 years ago


    Having been around So. Cal. during that time I can tell you that all most every department that I knew took the Flight-rite gas projectile out of service right after this happened. Mr. Salazar was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was looking for a story and got to close to the action.
    This is one reporters opinion

  • 20552_1343137337912_1215571721_31006460_5991340_n_max50


    over 3 years ago


    Oh, gez. Police don't use missiles.

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