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Baca to turn over Ruben Salazar files to civilian watchdog for review [Updated]

August 18, 2010 |  4:29 pm

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said Wednesday that he was turning over thousands of pages on the slaying of former Times columnist and KMEX-TV news director Ruben Salazar to the civilian watchdog agency that monitors the Sheriff's Department so a report can be prepared on the 40-year-old case.

Baca's move comes in response to a California Public Records Act request filed by The Times in March seeking records that might shed light on Salazar's killing by a deputy who fired a tear-gas missile that struck the reporter during a massive riot in East Los Angeles. Questions and controversy continue to cloud the Aug. 29, 1970, slaying, which left an open wound that has yet to heal.

"The sheriff wants to move this forward," Baca spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

However, it is unclear whether the county's Office of Independent Review will recommend releasing documents, according to director Michael Gennaco.

He said his staff would write a report based on its review of the eight boxes of records. If there is sufficient information, Gennaco said, he will assess the department's actions during Salazar's slaying and compare them with current policies and procedures.

"We're going to let the chips fall where they may," said Gennaco, whose agency is staffed by about half a dozen attorneys who monitor officer-involved shootings and allegations of wrongdoing. "Maybe there's answers in those boxes."

Salazar's daughter, Lisa Salazar Johnson, praised Baca for moving forward on the case but added that all the files should be opened.

"I feel they should be made public so everybody can draw their own conclusions," she said.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas also credited Baca for his decision but said he hoped the records would be made public.

"This is not meant to reflect poorly on the current sheriff or the current department as a whole. It is to capture the significance of history for our collective benefit and posterity," he said of opening the files.

[Corrected at 5:43 p.m.: An earlier version said Salazar was shot in 1979.]

-- Robert J. Lopez and Robert Faturechi

Video credit: Robert J. Lopez / Los Angeles Times