Salazar may sue county

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By David Giuliani

A Las Vegas police officer is seeking more than $250,000 in damages from San Miguel County for releasing documents about him that he contends should have been kept secret.

On July 8, Officer Martin Salazar filed a tort claims notice with the county, which is a warning that he may sue.

He stated that he has suffered from emotional distress since stories have appeared in the Optic about county jailers’ allegations against him.

A top county official counters that he and his employees have followed the law.

On May 20, the Optic ran a story about jailers’ reports alleging that Salazar threatened a female arrestee with violence; he was cleared by a state police investigation this week.

Salazar hasn’t returned repeated Optic calls about the allegations.

The Optic obtained the reports through unofficial channels, but the county later provided them upon a public records request.

According to jailers’ reports, Salazar is quoted as saying about the woman, “Get this (expletive) good for nothing piece of (expletive) out of my car before I hurt her.” The woman, Bernadette Varela, had bruises she said she suffered as the result of Salazar’s misconduct.

However, the officer reported that the woman had kicked him. She was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct, concealing identity, assault on a police officer and felony battery on an officer.

The charges were thrown out after Varela wrote a three-sentence apology letter, but she later told the Optic that it was coerced.

In his claim, Salazar stated that the reports were released in violation of the jail’s media relations policy. The officer contended that an unnamed jail official gave the reports to the newspaper and local activist Lorenzo Flores, who has complained publicly about alleged police misconduct.

Salazar contended that Flores tried to use the reports to get him fired from the Las Vegas Police Department.

Salazar maintained the reports were not a public record. He said they were published in the Optic “in bad faith,” encouraged by several jail employees, whom he wouldn’t name.

“Since the reports were released to the media, it has caused an invasion of my privacy and severe emotional distress to myself and my family,” Salazar wrote in his claim. He added that the distress has caused him to lose interest in a profession that provides financial stability for his family.

He contended the distress was caused by the negligence of the jail official, whom the officer said should have been supervised by Warden Patrick Snedeker and ultimately, County Manager Les Montoya.

Salazar claims he has suffered from personal injury, abuse of process, libel, slander and defamation of character.

Salazar stated that he has contacted an attorney, whom he hasn’t named. His claim appears to have been drafted with the help of a lawyer.

The county manager, Montoya, said the jailers’ reports about Salazar are public records. He said the county complied with the state Inspection of Public Records Act, which mandates that nearly all government documents are open to the public.

“We’ve done nothing wrong,” he said.

Flores, the activist, took exception to Salazar’s claims.

“The truth is the truth,” he said. “That he wants to blame the county for what he did is totally ludicrous. As for the guards, they have a duty to report these incidents. The documents are not privileged or protected under the law. Martin Salazar is a loose cannon, and I don’t know why he’s still on duty.”

The incident at the jail has attracted much local interest. After the reports came to light, more than 100 people met to discuss alleged police misconduct, and the mayor is now considering forming a police oversight board.