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Review of 1970 Ruben Salazar slaying to contain 'interesting new information'

February 8, 2011 | 11:12 am

Ruben A review of L.A. County Sheriff's Department records in the 1970 slaying of former Times columnist and KMEX-TV news director Ruben Salazar will be made public as early as this week and is expected to include “interesting new information,” an official said.

The highly anticipated report is expected to shed light on the journalist’s death caused by a tear-gas missile fired by a deputy during a riot in East Los Angeles. Questions and controversy have continued to cloud the incident, even after 40 years.

Sheriff Lee Baca last year asked for a review of eight boxes of related records by his department’s watchdog agency in response to a California Public Records Act request filed by The Times.

Michael Gennaco, who heads the Office of Independent Review, the civilian watchdog agency that monitors the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, said Monday his probe will be ready this week or next.

“There will be some interesting new information,” he said.

Members of Salazar's family, community activists and county supervisors Gloria Molina and Mark Ridley-Thomas have urged release of the files to help bring closure to a painful chapter in Los Angeles County history.

The Latino Caucus in Sacramento and the Radio Television & News Assn. of Southern California are also urging Baca to unseal the records.

"For too long, a cloud has hung over the Sheriff's Department because of questions about the circumstances surrounding the death of our honored colleague, Ruben Salazar," the news association said in a statement released to The Times.

Unsealing the files "will go a long way toward bringing to a close this sad chapter in the history of journalism in Los Angeles," the statement read.

When the review was launched, Gennaco said that if he found sufficient information, his office would assess the Sheriff’s Department's actions during Salazar's slaying and compare them with current policies and procedures.

At Baca's request, county supervisors established the Office of Independent Review in 2001 as a civilian oversight agency monitoring allegations of misconduct in the department. Baca has turned to it for probes in the past.

Salazar was struck in the head by a 10-inch, torpedo-shaped tear-gas projectile fired by a deputy. The newsman was inside the Silver Dollar bar on Whittier Boulevard, where he and a KMEX reporter had been taking a break from covering the action.

It was never determined whether the deputy was following department policy when he fired the missile, which bore the warning: "Not to be used against crowds."

During a 16-day coroner's inquest, the hearing officer twice refused to subpoena the sheriff's manual covering the use of tear gas, saying the document was classified. Deputies testified they warned people to get out of the bar after receiving reports of an armed man inside.

But four men who had been inside told the inquest panel they were forced back into the bar by deputies moments before the fatal projectile was fired. No armed man was ever found inside the small tavern.

The inquest concluded that Salazar "died at the hands of another," a ruling that confused observers and angered Mexican American activists who said the hearing focused on the actions of the rioters but failed to investigate what happened in the moments leading up to the killing.

"It was a whitewash," Joe Rank, a former KMEX vice president who hired Salazar to head the station's news department, said previously.


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-- Robert Faturechi and Robert Lopez

Photo: Journalist Ruben Salazar, right, meets with Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. Credit: University of Arizona