The death of journalist Ruben Salazar at the hands of an L.A. County Sheriff's deputy in 1970 became a rallying point for the Chicano movement and inspired the first organization for Hispanic journalists in the United States — CCNMA: Latino Journalists of California, where this reporter serves as a board member.
What, exactly, happened at East L.A.'s Silver Dollar Bar and Cafe on Aug. 29, 1970 following Salazar's coverage of a Chicano Moratorium march remains a mystery. We know he was shot in the head with a tear-gas projectile. But why?
After years of refusal, Sheriff Lee Baca allowed the department's records to be examined by a documentary filmmaker but, ultimately, Baca would only let Phillip Rodriguez take a gander.
No copies were allowed.
This despite the fact that Baca's superior, L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina, has called on him to unleash the eight boxes of records that the sheriff's department has on Salazar.
Yesterday the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund announced that it has filed suit against the department in an effort to get it to release the documents.
In a statement, MALDEF says:
The petition was filed on behalf of noted documentary filmmaker Phillip Rodriguez. The writ of mandate seeks access to records referring to Salazar's death and autopsy, and the ensuing investigation. The documents were initially requested by Rodriguez in 2010. Over the past two years the Sheriff's Department has justified its refusal of full disclosure by claiming the documents were exempt from public records requests or otherwise subject to limitations on reviewing and copying. However, Baca allowed public inspection of the records – thus waiving exemption rights – then refused to provide copies of the unredacted documents he allowed to be inspected.
Being somewhat of a Mexican American himself, it's a strange stance for Baca: It makes you wonder what the Teflon Sheriff is trying to hide.
Salazar was a pro-Chicano Los Angeles Times columnist and KMEX-TV news director whose death was chronicled by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson in Rolling Stone.
MALDEF president Thomas A. Saenz:
There is no reason, in logic or law, why the Sheriff should continue to withhold information that he has already allowed to be reviewed by members of the public, related to a case that is over 40 years old.
Rodriguez, a fellow at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, has been working on his documentary on Salazar's life, the Ruben Salazar Project, for more than two years.
The Los Angeles Times has also filed California Public Records Act requests in attempts to get the documents.