Litigation Settlement Prevents Sheriff Baca From Keeping Decades-Old Documents Under Wraps And Subject Only to In-Person Supervised Review

LOS ANGELES, CA – On Tuesday, MALDEF settled its lawsuit against Sheriff Lee Baca and the County of Los Angeles challenging the Sheriff’s attempt to withhold unredacted records regarding the 1970 killing of prominent journalist, Rubén Salazar. MALDEF represents Phillip Rodriguez, a noted documentary filmmaker, who requested the documents 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.

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.

Matthew Barragan, staff attorney at MALDEF, remarked on the victory: “When the legislature enacted the California Public Records Act, it expressly declared that ‘access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state.’ In order to verify government accountability, individuals like Rodriguez must have access to government files. Such access permits checks against the secrecy which has kept these records out of the public view for over 40 years after the incident.”

Prior to filing litigation, MALDEF sent numerous written requests in 2010 for documents regarding Salazar’s death. 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. However, Sheriff Baca waived any exemption rights when he allowed limited public inspection of the records in March 2011. That public inspection came with unlawful conditions, including a ban on the making of copies. In April 2012, MALDEF filed a petition for writ of mandate to compel Sheriff Baca to release copies of public records relating to the death of Salazar without redactions.

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. His documentary 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.

The film, “Rubén Salazar: The Man in the Middle,” will air in the fall of 2013 on PBS primetime to national audiences.

For the full and final release of claims and settlement agreement CLICK HERE.


[Photo by LATimes via UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library Department of Special Collections]

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