Unredacted information on Los Angeles journalist Ruben Salazar’s death will be released to filmmaker Phillip Rodriguez for a PBS documentary to air next fall.
The long stalemate over the unredacted autopsy, investigative documents and coroner’s photos relating to the 1970 sheriff’s deputy killing of Los Angeles journalist Ruben Salazar has been settled, civil rights lawyers have announced.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca agreed to allow filmmaker Phillip Rodriguez unobstructed access to the material for a PBS documentary that will air next fall.
Salazar, who had infuriated law enforcement officials with columns he wrote while at the Los Angeles Times, was slain during the Chicano Moratorium March on Aug. 29, 1970 by a sheriff’s grenade fired through the door of a bar that struck him in the head, killing him instantly.
No one was ever charged with a crime, though official investigations found that sheriff’s deputies acted inappropriately when responding to a report of an armed man in the bar in an East Los Angeles bar.
“This settlement ensures that the sheriff can no longer attempt to control the use of critical historical records on the killing of iconic journalist Ruben Salazar,” said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
“The public, through the forthcoming documentary film, will immediately benefit from the availability of these unredacted records in assessing Salazar’s death 42 years ago.”
Triumph in long battle to obtain records on Ruben Salazar’s death
Baca had refused to allow Rodriguez access to the material for two years, though he had made public redacted documents and photos to journalists.
Last April, MALDEF went to court on Rodriguez’s behalf, attempting Baca to release copies of public records relating to Ruben Salazar’s death without redactions.
Rodriguez said having access to the material will allow his film—“Ruben Salazar: The Man in the Middle”—to “illuminate an often neglected and misrepresented chapter of American history that was foundational in the development of the Latino cultural and political identity.”
“The records now made available without redactions and for reproduction will allow Rodriguez to narrate a more accurate account of Salazar’s controversial death than ever before possible,” said Saenz.
“His documentary will be the first independent and thorough investigation of the mysterious and controversial events surrounding Salazar’s death.”
At the time of Ruben Salazar’s death, he was working for the Los Angeles Spanish language television station KMEX.
Last year a report of these records by a civilian watchdog group did not assign blame or wrongdoing but did acknowledge that its conclusions were limited on the key issue in Salazar’s slaying—whether he was a victim of a plot by authorities—because investigators at the time discounted theories that he had been killed intentionally.
Even by the policing standards of the 1970s, the report said, the deputy’s use of the tear gas missile seemed “contrary to … [the] department training.”
Salazar’s friends and others have suggested he was targeted by law enforcement because his aggressive coverage of Mexican-American issues had created a growing voice for Latinos caught up in the turbulence of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements.