ON Tuesday, MALDEF settled its lawsuit against Sheriff Lee Baca and LA County, in which they had challenged the sheriff’s two-year attempt to withhold unredacted records regarding the 1970 death of Rubén Salazar, the former Times columnist and KMEX-TV news director who was killed on the day of the National Chicano Moratorium March against the Vietnam War under circumstances that have left in their wake a cloud of questions for more than four decades.
In the lawsuit, MALDEF represented award-winning documentary filmmaker Phillip Rodriguez, who is in the midst of making a film on the life of Salazar and the controvesy around his death. With this settlement, Rodriguez—and others—can finally have full access to things like unredacted autopsy reports, and coroner’s photos taken at the scene, plus unredacted investigative documents.
Here’s a clip from MALDEF’s Thursday press release:
Salazar was a KMEX-TV 34 journalist killed by a Sheriff’s deputy during the national Chicano Moratorium March in 1970. He was best known as the first Mexican American journalist to cover the Chicano community from the mainstream media. Despite the truth-seeking and investigative nature of his journalistic work, Salazar’s own death has been surrounded in secrecy for over 40 years.
“This settlement ensures that the Sheriff can no longer attempt to control the use of critical historical records on the killing of iconic journalist Rubén Salazar. 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,” stated Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel.
On December 4, 2012, the Sheriff and the County agreed to disclose unredacted autopsy and investigative documents, and coroner’s photos regarding Salazar’s death on August 29, 1970, enabling Phillip Rodriguez to reproduce copies of the documents, and use them in his film.
MALDEF began requesting the information in 2010, under the California Public Records Act, but the LASD folks refused to turn anything over claiming the documents were exempt from public records requests. However, with increasing legal prodding, a shove or two from Supervisor Gloria Molina (plus a lot of negative publicity surrounding the stonewalling), Sheriff Baca agreed to let Rodriguez and company look at the docs in March 2011, but only under strict conditions. For one thing, nobody could make copies of the reports.
According to Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel, the sheriff de facto admitted that the documents were not exempted as public records by allowing partial access to them, thus rendering the rest of the control-freaky conditions that he and the LASD placed on them, to be legally unsupportable.
Nevertheless, the sheriff and his lawyers managed to drag the whole thing out for an additional nine months—for no appreciable reason (save, one supposes, Because They Can).
Of course, for the Sheriff there is no fiscal downside to engaging in two years of basically useless and rights-hindering legal wrangling since we, as taxpayers, were footing the attorneys’ bills to help the LASD try to keep the crucial material about the 42-year-old Salazar case OUT of the public domain.
(And, what’s up with the County Counsel attorneys who gave the sheriff the swell advice that allowed him to think that he could continue all this legal foot-dragging?)
Vexing. Very Vexing.
Congratulations to Phillip Rodriquez and MALDEF for prevailing in the public interest.
Rodriguez’s documentary is eagerly awaited as what it is hoped will be the first independent and thorough investigation of the mysterious and controversial events surrounding Salazar’s death. “The film will illuminate an often neglected and misrepresented chapter of American history that was foundational in the development of the Latino cultural and political identity,” stated Rodriguez.
Rodriguez’s film, “Rubén Salazar: The Man in the Middle,” will air in the fall of 2013 on PBS primetime to national audiences.
You can read the full settlement here.
LAPD UNION USES FBI MOST WANTED ARREST TO SLAM REALIGNMENT
On Tuesday, the LAPPL LAPPL put out a statement that, in a peculiar loop-de-loop of logic, attempted to discredit the state’s realignment policy because, the recently arrested fugitive from the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list, Jose Luis Saenz, was—for entirely bureaucratic reasons—taken off parole.
Yes, I know it sounds weird. But Saenz was taken off the parole rolls because he no longer qualified, so removing him was simply bureaucratic clean up. “Having him on parole was essentially useless,” said CDCR spokesman, Luis Patino. “It was just gumming up the system, so we removed him.” They knew Saenz had warrants on him for four murders, Patino said. “He didn’t need another parole warrant in order to be arrested.”
The LAPPL writes on its blog:
The Los Angeles Police Protective League has warned the community that realignment would result in mass discharges of very dangerous felons and the deaths of innocent individuals. While realignment was enacted years after Saenz was first wanted, what justification does the Parole Department have for discharging Saenz in August, when he’s still wanted for killing four people?
It sounds sexy and like a delicious gotcha to say that the CDCR is SO out-of-it that they took the FBI’s most wanted guy off parole.
Yet, it is a cheap trick, loaded with falsehoods-–yet it is one that continues to be repeated in various guises.
Certainly, there are ways that realignment can—and should— be improved. But it is irresponsible and profoundly distorting of the issue to take big bad, high profile murder cases that have zero to do with the state’s new policy, and try to hold them up as bogeymen to scare people into counterfactually believing the state’s realignment program is damaging public safety.
Worse, such theatrics stand in the way of a genuine discussion about how to make realignment better.
OBAMA ADMINISTRATION STILL LAGGING ON APPOINTING HEAD OF YOUTH JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
There is a big push to get the Senate to force the Obama administration into getting off the dime and appointing a head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), which oversees and coordinates juvenile justice reforms around the country. This administration is the first since the OJJDP was created in 1974 to fail to make the appointment.
This essay from Campaign for Youth Justice head, Liz Ryan, makes clear the importance of the issue.