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DA seeks inquiry into allegations

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By Lee Einer

District Attorney Richard Flores has decided to ask the state police to investigate county jailers’ allegations that a Las Vegas police officer threatened a woman in the county jail’s booking area.

He made that decision after the Optic sent copies of the jailers’ reports to the district attorney’s office. Although the reports had been referred to Las Vegas Police Chief Gary Gold in March, the DA’s office had never seen them.

In another development, the alleged victim, who wrote a letter of apology to the police officer, Martin Salazar, who she was accused of kicking, said she signed the letter under duress.

San Miguel County jailers have said the Las Vegas officer brought the 52-year-old woman, Bernadette Varela, to the jail in an injured condition and that he then threatened to hurt her.

Varela was brought to the San Miguel County detention center on the afternoon of Feb. 18. after being arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and concealing her identity.

The arresting officer, Martin Salazar, is quoted in jail incident reports as saying “Get this (expletive deleted)  piece of s--- bitch out of my car before I hurt her.” Varela’s injuries were severe enough that after inspection by the center’s medical personnel she was transferred to Alta Vista Regional Hospital.

The probable cause statement in the arrest states that Varela was verbally abusive to the officer, triggering the initial arrest and that while attempting to handcuff her, Varela had kicked the officer on his legs and “near his crotch area.” Charges of assault on a police officer and felony battery on a police officer were later added at the direction of Assistant District Attorney Tom Clayton, according to the probable cause statement.

All charges were dismissed on the condition that Varela sign a letter of apology to Martin Salazar, with a copy to Police Chief Gary Gold. Varela signed such a letter on April 7.

But Varela said in an interview with the Optic that she never struck Salazar, that she did not write the letter of apology, and that she signed it under duress. Varela said that she was told by her attorney during her arraignment that she had to sign a letter of apology or she would have a felony on her record and would be sent immediately back to jail.

Varela said she told her attorney, “No, that goes totally against everything I believe in because I didn’t do anything. He should be apologizing to me,” and that she refused to write the letter. Instead, Varela said, her attorney wrote the letter and she signed it to avoid a felony charges and stay out of jail.

Varela said that if her feet had contacted Salazar at any time, it was when they flew up in the air behind her as Salazar seized her by her hair and slammed her face down on the hood of a police cruiser.

The allegations of police abuse were reported to Police Chief Gary Gold by Warden Patrick Snedeker on Feb. 18, the date the incident occurred, according to a memo from Snedeker to County Manager Les Montoya dated March 18.

Varela said no one from the city police or the district attorney’s office has interviewed her about the alleged incident at the jail.

District Attorney Richard Flores said that his office was unaware of the incident at the jail when it agreed to drop charges.  

“You’ve got to remember that when these plea negotiations were done and the charges against Varela were dismissed, we had no idea that there were any allegations, any jail brutality,” Flores said. “What I’m worried about is that your article will lead readers to believe Marty Salazar got this case dismissed because he didn’t want the jail allegations to surface.”

Gold has said the jailers’ statements against Salazar are a personnel matter. Salazar didn’t return a message for comment.