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As Ruben Salazar report is released, people who knew him say it won't end suspicions about the case

February 22, 2011 |  3:35 pm

As officials formally released a report Tuesday on the slaying of journalist Ruben Salazar, people who knew the newsman applauded the review but said it will not end the suspicions that have clouded the case for the last 40 years.

Salazar was killed by a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who fired a tear-gas projectile into a darkened bar where the newsman was taking a break from reporting on rioting that had broken out on L.A.'s Eastside, said Michael Gennaco, head of the Office of Independent Review, which prepared the report.

DOCUMENTS: The Ruben Salazar Files, a reporter monitored by law enforcement much of his career

If deputies had intended to kill Salazar, Gennaco told reporters at a packed news conference, "they could have chosen a strategy that had a better chance of succeeding rather than taking a blind shot in the dark."

The watchdog agency's review, first reported Sunday in The Times, found no evidence to support the contention that deputies intentionally targeted Salazar or had him under surveillance.

The report is the first outside review of thousands of Sheriff's Department records in the Aug. 29, 1970, slaying, which left an open wound that has yet to heal.

At the time of his death, Salazar was a Times columnist and news director at Spanish-language KMEX-TV. The newsman's forceful columns and aggressive TV coverage had sharply criticized law enforcement actions in Mexican American neighborhoods on Los Angeles' Eastside.

Salazar had told friends several days before his slaying that he believed he was being shadowed by authorities and feared that they might do something to discredit his reporting.

Raul Ruiz, a Cal State Northridge professor who read the report, said it was limited by its analysis of department records that only provide a partial picture. He said it won't end the speculation that has shadowed Salazar's slaying.

"I applaud what was done, but to really understand the situation they needed to interview more witnesses," said Ruiz, who knew Salazar and took photographs outside the bar before the fatal tear-gas projectile was fired. "The report reflects the bias and opinion of the sheriff's deputies."

Only one witness, the deputy who shot Salazar, was interviewed. The report acknowledged that its conclusions were limited on the key issue in Salazar's slaying -- whether he was a victim of a plot by authorities -- because sheriff's homicide detectives at the time discounted theories that the newsman was killed intentionally. As a result, they failed to ask questions that might have prevented the speculation and conspiracy theories that haunt the case to this day.

William Restrepo, the KMEX reporter who was with Salazar when he died, had not read the report but said Tuesday that they were being followed by law enforcement authorities in the days leading up to the National Chicano Moratorium Against the Vietnam War.

Like other friends of the newsman, Restrepo insisted that Salazar was targeted  because he had become a leading voice for the growing Mexican American community caught up in the turbulence of the anti-Vietnam War and civil rights movements.

"I still believe it was conspiracy to kill him because of the work we were doing," Restrepo told The Times. "There was no way that you can explain what happened."

RELATED:

Report says no evidence Salazar was targeted

Friends say Ruben Salazar believed his life was in danger

Ruben Salazar clashed with LAPD in months before his slaying

-- Robert J. Lopez and Robert Faturechi

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