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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Bayamón mayor: Ávila Vázquez case warrants deeper investigation



Bayamón Mayor Ramón Luis Rivera Cruz

By The Star Staff


Bayamón Mayor Ramón Luis Rivera Cruz said Tuesday that the case of the release of Hermes Ávila Vázquez was not only mishandled, but also merits a thorough investigation to understand, for example, if the incident stems from a public policy to reduce the prison population.


Ávila Vázquez, a convicted murderer, was out of prison under conditional medical release and allegedly killed Ivette Joan Meléndez Vega on April 22 in Manatí.


“I think it’s a very poorly handled case, very badly handled. I don’t know if it’s because of a deficiency, I don’t know if there was someone who was behind it, I don’t know if maybe they want to reduce the socio-penal population to have … I really don’t know,” the mayor said in response to questions from the press. “But that’s why I believe that there has to be a thorough investigation of it and not just that case, to take all the cases [of inmates being given conditional release back into] the free community and see which ones were really worth giving them the opportunity and which should not have been given the opportunity.”


“That’s why I say, there has to be serious analysis with all the patience in the world to make sure that this research has positive results in the long run,” Rivera Cruz said. “Correct what needs to be corrected, adjust what needs to be adjusted, vote for who needs to be voted for and transform the system.”


According to data from the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics, by October 2020 there were 7,861 people confined in the island’s various penal institutions. In April of this year, according to data from the same institute, the number of inmates stood at 7,334.


The mayor said that the first thing the governor should have done, and did not do, was to temporarily remove Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Ana Escobar Pabón from office while the investigation was completed.


“Well, look, I think some mistakes were made,” Rivera Cruz said. “I would have removed her from the position until the investigation was completed. That then would have given him greater transparency. That didn’t happen. I think that’s going to work against the government and the corrections [department]. I would have temporarily removed her from office while the investigation was concluded. If all was well, she would return to office. If there was something wrong, then proceed in the appropriate way.”


Rivera Cruz said what seems to have happened so far is a blame game.


“Nobody says anything. Everybody’s passing the hot potato,” he said. “Corrections passed it on to the private company, the private company passed it on to the State Insurance Fund. So now no one is to blame. What’s interesting along the way is how a person who had a very dangerous criminal record […] In other words, in the same file it allegedly says that the family did not authorize or did not accept his [Ávila Vázquez’s] return to their house. So, when I see that the same family says no, no, at home I don’t want him, it raises a flag.”


The mayor said he is also concerned about other issues at the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.


“I hear of a lot of fentanyl deaths, a huge influx of drugs into the various prisons. What is the condition in which the inmates are living?” he said. “Who is supervising these companies that have to make the determinations to release people on their own terms? Who is overseeing and auditing companies like this that provide medical services?”

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