MALDEF Sues For Refusal To Release Records In Ruben Salazar Case

(Editor’s note: the following is a MALDEF Press Release)

Today (4/23/12) MALDEF filed a petition for writ of mandate to compel Sheriff Lee Baca to release public records relating to the death of Ruben Salazar. Sheriff Baca has refused to release the complete files despite waiving exemption rights when he made the records available for public inspection in March 2011.

Salazar was a Mexican American journalist killed by a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy during the national Chicano Moratorium in August 1970. The role of the County and its Sheriff’s department in the death of Salazar has been the subject of public controversy in Los Angeles, in great part as a result of the secrecy surrounding the event. MALDEF’s legal action comes as the Sheriff and County continue to withhold these records, more than forty years after the incident.

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.

“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,” stated Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel and lead attorney on the case. “The Sheriff should understand that the community, including law enforcement, would benefit from greater knowledge and understanding about Ruben Salazar’s tragic death.”

Rodriguez is a filmmaker and fellow at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He is the producer of the “Ruben Salazar Project” and has spent over 2 years seeking access to records as part of his research for the documentary film that tells the story of the life and mysterious death of the prominent civil rights era journalist.

“Unresolved issues remain about the controversial killing of journalist Ruben Salazar by an L.A. deputy sheriff. My documentary will address those unresolved issues, and the Sheriff’s files are vital to presenting a full account of Salazar’s life and death. We’ve tried repeatedly to gain access to the files for more than two years, and we finally felt compelled to take this legal action,” stated Rodriguez.

The documentary has received funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS, Latino Public Broadcasting, The California Council for the Humanities and the California Community Foundation. The documents were requested under the California Public Records Act. Article I section 3(b)(1) of the California Constitution guarantees that “the people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business.”

Prior to filing the petition, MALDEF sent numerous written requests to Sherriff Baca for information and materials involved in the Salazar incident. The requests specifically sought the documentation without redactions.

For a copy of the writ of mandate, click HERE.

[Photo by Wikipedia]

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