Media Watch

KGUN Reporter Investigated for Allegedly Impersonating Victim-Witness Advocate

On Sunday, July 27, television-news trucks converged on an eastside neighborhood to interview family members and neighbors about the fatal shooting of 14-year-old Alexandria Salinas the night before.

The suspect, Shelden Pruitt, 15, was alleged to have been upset because Salinas, his stepsister, had been on the phone too long. He has been charged with second-degree murder.

This is the nature of the business in television news. What's unusual are the steps a Pima County Attorney's Office investigation says were taken by KGUN Channel 9 reporter MaryAnn Martinez to get her foot in the family door.

According to a complaint filed by the family, Martinez claimed to be a county victim advocate, and told the family it would help her investigation if they talked on camera. Martinez allegedly had to come clean when the actual victim advocate showed up on the scene.

"A report was made by our victim advocate with the county attorney, and the detective's division within our office conducted an investigation that did involve MaryAnn Martinez," said Amelia Cramer of the Pima County Attorney's Office. "... Our detective determined she had been holding herself out as a government employee, as a victim's advocate, when, in fact, she was a reporter."

A family member called the wrong local news station to complain, incorrectly thinking KOLD Channel 13's Suleika Acosta was responsible. When Acosta was exonerated, the trail led to Martinez at KGUN. From there, the family member filed the complaint with Pima County.

"(Pima County Attorney) Barbara LaWall and I, and the director of our Victim Witness program, Kent Burbank, met with the news director and the vice president of the station ... " Cramer said. "We requested assurance this was contrary to their policy, and this type of thing would never happen again."

Cramer would not rule out the possibility of further legal action.

KGUN's parent company, Journal Broadcast Group, released a statement suggesting a different outcome.

"We took this accusation seriously and have pursued every avenue to investigate this matter," said the statement drafted by Jim Thomas, Journal's vice president of marketing, programming and interactive media, located in Milwaukee. "At this time, we have determined that a misunderstanding must have occurred. ... Much like the (district attorney), we have concluded that further action is not warranted and that our reporter acted in a proper manner ... Further, our station policy is clear that we are not to misrepresent ourselves during the coverage of any news story."

Martinez, who did not return an e-mail for comment, remains on staff and continues her general-assignment-reporting duties for the local ABC affiliate.

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