Pierluisi: System failed Andrea Ruiz Costas

Orders Justice Dept. to have a prosecutor present at complaint hearings in gender violence cases

By John McPhaul

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia said in a television interview on Tuesday “the system failed” in the case of Andrea Ruiz Costas, a woman who was killed in an incident of gender violence by her former partner after she went to court on more than one occasion to ask for a protection order and report Miguel Ocasio Santiago for attacks and threats.

The judges who heard the case failed to act.

The governor’s statements came the day after a news outlet released a linked audio recording from one of the court sessions in which the 35-year-old woman describes the harassment to which she was being subjected.

“It is unfortunate that this recording was released, like that,” Pierluisi said in an interview on Telemundo’s “Hoy Día” program. “Ideally, the Supreme Court would have decided to disclose them [the court recordings]. Why? Because the victim has already passed away and even her own parents have no objection to the fact that, well, there is total transparency in this.”

“So it has already been released. I have not heard the audio [of the recording], but I have seen the summary of what happened in the media and, again, here what you see is that the system crashed,” the governor added. “This victim was not protected as should have been the case. She lost her life totally, unnecessarily, and this is the type of situation that should not be repeated.”

Ruiz Costas took steps to protect herself before the Caguas Judicial Center, but a decision by a municipal judge, Ingrid Alvarado Rodríguez, did not grant her an arrest warrant against her ex-partner, Ocasio Santiago.

He allegedly ended up killing Ruiz Costas and partially burning her body on April 29.

Pierluisi said he ordered Justice Secretary Domingo Emanuelli Hernández to have a prosecutor present at such hearings in which gender violence is reported.

The governor clarified that while gender violence cases are confidential, he supports releasing the recordings in the case of Ruiz Costas “so that we know what happened.”

In response to a request for reconsideration filed by the Puerto Rico Journalists Association (ASPPRO by its Spanish initials), the Supreme Court on Monday ordered in a divided ruling that the audios from the courtroom specialized in domestic violence not be released in the Ruiz Costas case, on the grounds that it would provoke re-victimization.

“We resolve that the request for information presented by the aforementioned association is not applicable and we provide no place for it,” reads the ruling. “Consequently, the hearing set by the Superior Court for tomorrow, Tuesday, is annulled. Once this matter has been resolved, the case is returned to that forum so that the procedures can continue in a manner compatible with what has been resolved here.”

Last Friday, ASPPRO filed a motion to request the release of recordings from the Caguas Superior Court. In summary, it requested the disclosure of the judicial proceedings held on March 25, 26 and 31, 2021 in the People vs. Miguel Ocasio Santiago case.

In its petition, ASPPRO argued that its request differs from what was decided against the Overseas Press Club, because now it is requested that the sensitive parts of the testimony of Ruiz Costas be removed from the recordings.

In addition, ASPPRO emphasized that the relatives of Ruiz Costas have publicly expressed themselves in favor of the disclosure of the audio.

“What is it intended to hide? The general rule is that judicial processes are public and -- unless there is a compelling interest of the State -- steps are taken to limit that access. In this case, as in all similar cases reflected in jurisprudence, the balance leans toward access and transparency,” stated Supreme Court Chief Justice Maite Oronoz Rodríguez, the presiding judge, in her dissenting opinion. “There is no reason for a blank confidentiality rule to apply in this case. Therefore, the recordings have to be made public. The country and Andrea’s family demand it. As I indicated, they must listen to them first and let them say if they object to the disclosure of any fragment, since Andrea’s dignity and her memory does not end with her death. Then, it is the turn of the Country to listen to them. It is imperative to do so. There is nothing to hide.”

“Andrea’s voice was silenced. The press claim was ignored,” added Associate Justice Luis Estrella Martínez, also in dissent. “And today the demand of Andrea’s family was abruptly rejected, without being listened to, without being attended to, without giving anyone reasonable time.”

In his dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Ángel Colón Pérez stated that “[w]e are of the opinion that the recordings of the judicial hearings held in the Caguas Judicial Region on March 25, 26 and 31, 2021, to which we have previously referred, had to be delivered to Andrea’s relatives and to the journalists’ unions (Overseas Press Club and ASSPRO) that have requested them.”

“Unfortunately, they were not,” he wrote. “The cloak of absolute secrecy was imposed.”

The presidents of ASSPRO and the Overseas Press Club, Damaris Suárez and Luis Guardiola, respectively, reacted on Monday night to the repeated determination of the Supreme Court not to allow access to the audios in the case.

“The people of Puerto Rico can rest assured that their journalist s will not waver in their responsibility to oversee the functions of both the judicial … and executive [branches] to demand the highest degree of transparency and accountability from them. In relation to the recent rulings of the highest judicial forum that prohibit the disclosure of the public recordings in which Andrea Ruiz Costas testified against her ex-partner, who now faces criminal charges after confessing to her vile murder, we reiterate that there are no reasons to restrict people’s access to these public documents,” the journalists said. “The boards of directors of both organizations will make the appropriate determinations in the coming days and through their lawyers will chart the course to be followed in this fight whose only guiding purpose is to place in the hands of the country the information necessary to evaluate the execution of its system of justice.”

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