Jail: Cop abused woman

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By Lee Einer

A number of jailers have filed reports stating that a Las Vegas police officer threatened to hurt a woman when he was booking her into the jail. Jailers said she had already been injured before her arrival.

Several of the reports quote Las Vegas police Officer Martin Salazar as saying to the jailers, “Get this (expletive deleted) good for nothing piece of s--- out of my car before I hurt her.”  

Reports of the alleged incident, which occurred on Feb. 18, were submitted by San Miguel County Detention Center Chief of Security Johnny Lujan, the jail’s second in command; detention officers Justin Martinez and Joseph Gutierrez; Transport Supervisor Leroy T. Garcia; commissary officer Victoria Padilla; and Renee Ciddio, the director of classification and programs.

Some reports note that Bernadette Varela, 52, had a number of injuries on arrival that she said were inflicted by officer Salazar, that she was crying uncontrollably, and that she was taken to Alta Vista Regional Hospital for medical clearance before being booked.  

Three of the reports characterized Salazar variously as “irate” and “raging mad.” One detention officer stated he did not believe that Varela was safe in Salazar’s custody.

Accounts of what led to Varela’s arrest vary.

Salazar’s probable cause statement gives no indication of why he and and other unnamed officers appeared at Varela’s residence. The report says that Salazar “made contact” with Varela at her residence, that she began yelling and using abusive language, and that when he began to handcuff her, she began to kick him on his legs and “near his crotch area.” The report also says that Varela threatened Salazar when the two were en route to the jail.

According to the detention center reports, Varela related the following account: Officer Salazar and another officer first went to Varela’s home earlier in the day and entered without permission and would not leave until she asked to see a warrant, which is when they left the scene. Later in the day, Salazar returned and asked her to step outside. Salazar asked Varela about names and whereabouts of some people who had beaten him up at a bar a few nights previously. Varela, who said she did not know anything about the incident, said Salazar began threatening her with arrest. When she did not tell him what he wanted to hear, Salazar attacked her, grabbed her by her hair and  slammed her into a car, hitting her head and injuring her arm or shoulder and calling her a “crack whore.”

Jail reports also quote Varela as saying that she and Salazar were both verbally abusive en route to the jail, and that Salazar “threatened to stop the car and knock the f--- out of her and no one would know about it.”

Varela was charged initially with midemeanor disorderly conduct and concealing identity. Later, charges of assault on a police officer and felony battery on a police officer were added.

According to the probable cause statement filed in Magistrate Court, the additional charges were added at the direction of Assistant District Attorney Tom Clayton. Clayton later dismissed all charges against Varela on the sole condition that she write a letter of apology to Salazar and Police Chief Gary Gold. A copy of that agreement was obtained from Magistrate Court.

In her three-sentence letter, Varela apologized for striking Salazar but said she was unaware of alleged narcotics in her house. Salazar’s report didn’t mention drugs, but he is a narcotics officer.

On March 16, Warden Patrick Snedeker sent a memo to County Manager Les Montoya, attaching copies of the report and stating that the incident was reported to Gold on Feb. 18. The memo was copied to County Attorney Jesus Lopez and Gold. Snedeker has declined to comment on the incident.

Gold stated that the incident was “a personnel matter” and would only confirm that Salazar was still employed and is not on administrative leave.

An attempt to reach Salazar for comment was unsuccessful.