MALDEF PRIES UNREDACTED RUBEN SALAZAR RECORDS AWAY FROM BACA AFTER 2 YEARS OF POINTLESS LEGAL WRANGLING
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.
C: Happy to read that someone finally has called out ‘County Counsel.’ Those so-called attorneys that lie, cheat and steal to protect this rotten sheriff, Lee Baca! The things I have witnessed County Counsel do is enough to make your skin break out. Don’t be surprised that Baca himself was involved in this case. And how will MALDEF know, with any certainty, that they will finally get ALL the records? Because Baca and County Counsel says so! What a laugh!
J.London: Reminds me of a story I heard about how lawyers are selected for employment with L.A. County:
1. County Counsel: Must be a Harvard/Yale/Other top Law School Grad & pass the BAR within the first two attempts.
2. District Attorney: Can graduate from any Law School & must pass the BAR within 6 attempts.
3. Public Defender: Law School origin doesn’t matter & must pass the BAR within 14 attempts.
The County Counsel, as you know, gives legal advice to the County of L.A. We already know what the D.A. & the P.D. does
The Sheriff during the Salazar incident was Peter Pitches, former FBI agent.
Cause and effect. If Ruben Salazar had been at church rather than frequenting at a bar, the flight rite would have struck a wall instead of a human being.
CAUSE AND EFFECT
J.London: Your post gives rise to this thought– how much of the “Grey Area” stems from legal advice given by the County Counsel?
Okay, so MALDEF helped a guy get access to a 42 year old report so he can make a movie and profit from it. Was this a quest for the truth, or another case of someone trying to make a buck? They also make it sound like a deputy pulled the trigger on someone who was watching a peaceful march as opposed to being in a chaotic, riotous situation. Vexing. Very vexing.
Further to Follow: You statement is dumb to say the least. Mr. Salazar’s death was an accident, sloppy police work, but an accident
In the big scheme of things, this all will be a moot point as the Aztec Calendar is set to expirre. I’ve already picked out my casket at Costco. LOL
Enough of the “conspiracy” garbage……Salazar was in the wrong place at the wrong time, nothing more, nothing less! The article makes it seem like Ed Davis and Pitchess got together and had Salazar “Assassinated”…..ya, like “framing OJ”, right??
“Ed Davis: Hey Pete, you know that Salazar guy?”
“Pitchess: Ya Ed, what about him?”
“Davis: Next time there is an incident in your area, and he is around, could you get one of your Deputies to shoot him in the head with a Flight Rite?”
“Pitchess: Sure Ed, no problem…..got to get that SOB!!”
You have provided a link to the settlement agreement between documentary film maker Phillip Rodriguez/MALDEF and LASD Lee Baca/LA County over the Public Records Act request for documents involving the death of Ruben Salazar.
I read the settlement agreement. I am not an attorney, but I was left feeling acutely unsettled by what i saw.
I remain struck by the apparent brevity and simplicity of the agreement. Maybe a layman should find it refreshing to come across a legal document containing such direct and uncomplicated language. My suspicions are that it stinks. There is more contractual verbiage written on the back of ticket dispensed at the gate upon entering a private parking lot.
For certain, the wording of the settlement agreement does not provide access to Rodriguez – and others, of the County’s complete unredacted files concerning the death of Ruben Salazar.
The agreement states that unredacted documents are being provided to Rodriguez. There is no mention of any intention by the Sheriff or the County of satisfying any future request for same documents filed by any other party.
The situation appears to leave everybody else relying on the cooperation of Rodriguez in fulfilling their request for unredacted Salazar documents other than what he chooses to provide via his as yet unreleased documentary film.
That is not all that is irksome in this agreement:
“Section 3. In consideration of the agreements set forth here and other good and valuable considerations, Rodriguez….fully releases and settles all claims..”
What “other good and valuable considerations” are flowing in Rodriguez direction? The only item of value from the County which is specified in this agreement is an $8,000 payment to MALDEF for costs and attorneys fees. Is that the item ambiguously referenced here?
“Section 6. In exchange for the promises made by Rodriguez and the execution of this agreement, County agrees to pay…attorneys fees of $8,000 to MALDEF…in full and final settlement of all claims..”
The only specific action which is required of Rodriquez by this agreement is that he file a Dismissal of the action. Is that the “promises” made by Rodriguez which Section 6 attempts to reference?
We can all hope and pray that Phillip Rodriguez’ documentary can serve as an independent and thorough investigation of the events surrounding Ruben Salazar’s death. However, the Records Request settlement agreement negotiated by MALDEF on the behalf of Rodriguez leaves critical doubt about the chance of completely fulfilling that mission.
I refer to Section 5. “….County has provided to Rodriguez numerous public records requested..”
The settlement by Rodriguez gave up ground to the Sheriff Dept. The County has forced him to accept less than fulfillment of the request to provide “each, every and all” relative unredacted records on Salazar.
Section 5 Part d.:
“…..These records do not include Autopsy photos or photos taken at the morgue.”
The County is acknowledging they possess autopsy photos in the Salazar case, but they are not ready to let go of any to insure that Phillip Rodriguez can produce a completely thorough documentary inquiry.
We understand that Rodriquez doesn’t have an eternity available to finish his Salazar documentary. PBS has a deadline set to turn in the finished product. Its understandable that Rodriguez might compromise in order to achieve incremental progress. Of course, its not yet clear if Rodriguez will consider the documentary his final effort or simply a stepping stone to build awareness and pressure to win access to all the Salazar records.
Its not yet even clear what effect this settlement agreement ultimately has on Rodriquez’ documentary. Although Rodriguez and L.A. County are the main parties listed, this agreement was signed by MALDEF but it wasn’t signed by Phillip Rodriguez nor does it provide any place for his signature.
We can look forward to hearing Phillip Rodriguez address these issues before he asks us to accept his upcoming documentary on Ruben Salazar.
We don’t need to wait for anyone in order to draw the most vital observation concerning Ruben Salazar.
The effort that seeks to conceal the truth is still going on. It hasn’t let up after 42 years until this day. Its going strong right on this webpage in Comment #6 and Comment #9.
Can we dismiss them as “sloppy commenting”?
I don’t think so. The Ruben Salazar case has a continually shrinking demographic of interested readers. However their interest remains acute. The poignancy and personal relevance of this event remains intense.
Readers who comment on this case are very unlikely to be simply confused or misinformed.
Most likely their comments are part of a 42 year and ongoing effort to promote and spread disinformation.
Comment #6 offers a false choice. Ruben Salazar was not watching a peaceful march nor was he in a chaotic and riotous situation when he was killed. He was in a contained, controlled and relatively calm setting until the Sheriff deputies interjected themselves justified by a pretext and proceeded to act in a chaotic and irrational manner.
Ruben Salazar had left the site of the Chicano Moratorium demonstration and entered the confines of a neighborhood watering hole – The Silver Dollar.
The Sheriff deputies responded to the claim of somebody with a gun inside the bar. The sheriff has never produced any documentation for how they were notified of the alleged gunman or who notified them or anyone who witnessed a man with a gun. The Sheriff dept has never offered any evidence showing that their tactics that day were consistent with established policy for dealing with that type of situation. Whichever type of teargas projectile was fired blindly into the Silver Dollar, what other time has firing tear gas into that situation been considered an appropriate tactic at that stage?
Comment #9 creates a completely false interpretation of the report about the settlement agreement between Rodriguez/MALDEF and LASD/LA County concerning the Public Records request.
Nowhere was there any mention of LAPD Chief Ed Davis nor was there anything suggesting a clandestine agreement between Chief Davis and Sheriff Pitchess to place Ruben Salazar directly into the path of a potentially deadly projectile.