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Latin Tinge

Questions Arise Over Whose Side Local Hispanic Activist Angelo Solera is On

Jefferson Jackson Steele
Keep Away: Community Activist Angelo Solera says the city barred him from speaking to the media on behalf of the families of three children murdered in Baltimore's Park Heights neighborhood.

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 6/30/2004

The June 1 press release from Mayor Martin O’Malley’s Office of Neighborhoods contains six paragraphs, five of which are routine. The release, announcing the time and place of a vigil for the Espinoza-Quezada families, says the mayor will join the families in paying their respects to the three children who were murdered in their Park Heights home on May 27. The release solicits donations to the Espinoza-Quezada Trust Fund. The release says parking for the media will be available.

But then, in the fourth paragraph, bolded and underlined, this City Hall announcement calls a city contract employee, Hispanic activist, and former candidate for City Council a liar.

“Media note: Per notification by the Espinosa [sic] and Quezada families, Angelo Solera is not a spokesperson for the two families,” the release reads. “Family members state that they have not given Solera permission to speak on their behalf. Please be aware that some of the information Solera has provided is inaccurate. Please take this into account when filing your stories.”

Two days later, Solera says, Tony White, communications director for the city’s Office of Neighborhoods and the author of the press release, tried to bar Solera from speaking to the press about the case in any capacity—including as a private citizen—and prevented him from attending the children’s funeral. Solera says he regards this as a violation of his right of free speech, and has alerted the American Civil Liberties Union. “I said, ‘You cannot stop me from speaking,’” Solera recalls telling White, who confirms the incident.

Solera, an educator for Baltimore HealthCare Access Inc., a quasi-public agency of the city Health Department, came in fourth out of nine candidates in the Democratic primary for the City Council’s First District race last fall. He is a well-known activist in the city’s Hispanic community who says he was helping the Espinoza and Quezada families on his own time as a volunteer.

In January, Solera pled no contest to charges of second-degree assault against his former campaign manager and girlfriend. The plea stemmed from a domestic-abuse incident, and in April, Solera was sentenced to three years probation for violating a protective order stemming from that case. Mayor O’Malley’s wife, Katie Curran O’Malley, was the presiding judge in that case.

Solera says he doesn’t believe his criminal record affected the mayor’s effort to distance himself from Solera. He thinks it was about the mayor’s ego. To make his case, he recently sent an open letter to media outlets describing his impression of a City Hall power play that removed him from the shattered lives of the immigrant family who saw three of their children brutally murdered. He titled his account of the incident “Politics at Its Worst.”

Solera says he contacted the family as soon as he heard about the murders of Ricardo Espinoza and his sister Lucero Quezada, both 9, and their 10-year-old male cousin, Alexis Quezada. One child had been beheaded and the others nearly decapitated, according to press reports. One of their mothers reportedly found the children in their Park Heights apartment. Policarpio Espinoza, 22, an uncle to two of the children, and his cousin Adan Espinoza Canela, 17, were each charged with three counts of first-degree murder and were being held without bail. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for June 28.

Solera says he worked closely with the immediate family members, even driving them in his car for a meeting with Mayor O’Malley, and delivering them to the hotel where the city got them rooms.

Solera says the family gave him permission to act as their spokesman to the media. “If we had no agreement, then how was I the guy who released the photos” of the children to the press, he says. Solera says he was shocked to see his name on the June 1 city press release.

“It was clear to me, and others I spoke with including certain other city officials, that this was an attempt to defame me and get me out of the picture so that the city could control the media story and garner all of the credit for assisting in this tragedy,” Solera wrote in his open letter.

Solera says in an interview with City Paper that he has no idea what “inaccurate” information he supposedly provided. “I wasn’t going around saying the city is fucking up,” he says. “I was praising the city.”

White suggests it is Solera’s ego—not the mayor’s—that became an issue. He says Solera erred in telling reporters that the “that the funeral was going to be open to the public. And the family said that that was not the case.” (The family changed its mind later, however, and welcomed the public, except for Solera, White says).

On the day of the funeral, the family came for the private viewing, White says, “and they saw him [Solera] across the street talking to the media. They said, ‘If he’s going to talk to the media, we don’t want him in the church.’”

White told Solera of the family’s wishes, and says Solera was not cooperative. “That’s when Izzy was sent to try to appeal to him,” White says. “[Solera] was causing a major amount of discomfort for the whole family.”

Israel “Izzy” Patoka, director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods, says Irais Camacho (a relative of the Espinoza-Quezada families) asked him to tell Solera he would not be welcome inside the funeral home unless he agreed not to speak to the press about the matter. Patoka, who like White does not speak Spanish, says this was relayed by a city employee who translated: “I said, ‘Angelo, I’m asking you on behalf of the family—come in and pay your respects if you agree not to speak to the press on this issue.’ He responded to the point of ‘the mayor’s office can’t tell me what to do.’”

Patoka told Solera he was not welcome. Solera left.

“My concern was with the family, not so much with Angelo,” Patoka says. “If his feelings were hurt, I’m sorry. Trying to respect the family’s wishes during a very difficult time.”

Solera says he spoke with a family member after the mayor issued the press release, before the funeral. He says the family was told by the mayor’s office that Solera was selling information to the media, a charge Patoka and White deny. Solera says there is no way the family would have barred him.

The family is in Mexico and could not be reached for comment.

Stacey Mink, development director for the ACLU of Maryland, acknowledges that the organization has spoken to Solera about the incident but cannot comment publicly on the matter.

Solera, for his part, says he’s had enough of Baltimore. He says he’s moving back to his native Spain this fall, noting that the Judge O’Malley told him the move would not violate his probation. Solera is also appealing the case.

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