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N4T Investigators: Under Fire

TUCSON – A woman said she was raped by one of her superiors while working for the Rio Rico Fire District.

Lani Salazar said she did not feel like she had anywhere to immediately report the assault in the small department. She has now filed a lawsuit in federal court.

“I kept it in and tried to hope it would go away,” she said. “And things just got worse to the point that I couldn’t handle it.”

She said the man raped her at work 4 times.

“He’s a lot bigger than me,” she said. “I tried pushing him away.”

Another former firefighter, Rene Mendoza, is also a plaintiff on the lawsuit.

“One of the captains actually struck me in the testicles with an antenna,” Mendoza said.

He said firefighters shared pornography and called him names.

Mendoza and Salazar were both fired.

“I think that is just because I didn’t fall into their culture,” Mendoza said.

They violated the district’s policies and procedures, according to the district’s attorney, Jeff Matura.

“[The district denies] the allegations by these 2 former employees,” Matura said. “We’re not surprised that this lawsuit was filed. We have been aware of the allegations for quite some time now.”

Matura said multiple investigations showed the claims were not true.

“Eventually a jury of their peers gets to hear the evidence and render a decision,” Matura said. “And we’re confident that the truth will ultimately prevail in this case, and we’re confident in our defenses.”

Elizabeth Tate is the firefighters’ attorney.

“You would think that rape at the hands of a supervisor would be extreme,” Tate said. “But I know of other cases where women have been raped at work, and they don’t generally come forward but it happens.”

Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada said the man accused of rape chose not to speak to detectives and released a statement through his attorney.

The Santa Cruz County Attorney’s Office did not pursue charges because prosecutors did not believe they had enough evidence to prove any sex was not consensual.

Sam Salzwedel

Sam Salzwedel

Sam Salzwedel is an investigative reporter at News 4 Tucson.
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