Resident commissioner requests evaluation of specialized gender

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón said on Tuesday that the island’s Superior Courts must evaluate the procedures and caseloads in the judicial system’s Specialized Courtrooms for Domestic Violence Cases to see if they are capable of expanding services to successfully address gender violence cases in Puerto Rico.

After a meeting with New Progressive Party and Dignity Project lawmakers and representatives of the government’s legal system held at her San Juan office in the former School of Tropical Medicine to seek alternatives to state and federal legislation that help to improve the handling of cases of gender violence, González Colón said academics within the courts are investigating to see if the aforementioned chambers are capable of managing and improving the handling of initial cases under Rule 6 of the Domestic Violence Intervention and Prevention Act, which requires that a prosecutor be at the court hearings to ensure that the cases are properly handled.

However, the resident commissioner said, until the Superior Courts identify the full range of professional resources, investigative agents, police officers and prosecutors available in these specialized chambers, no further action can be taken.

“These will be recommendations, as I have no state jurisdiction [on this matter],” clarified González Colón, adding that she has met with members of the Legislative Assembly, and commonwealth agencies such as the Women’s Advocate Office, the Public Safety Department, the Justice Department and the Puerto Rico Police Bureau to begin identifying their concerns and needs in order to better address them.

Her statements came in the wake of recent revelations in the case of 35-year-old Andrea Ruiz Costas, a woman who sought a protection order three times against her former partner, Miguel Ocasio Santiago, at the Caguas Superior Court, which has a chamber dedicated to hearings on domestic violence cases, yet her requests were denied by judges Sonia Rivera and Ingrid Alvarado.

Ocasio Santiago reportedly confessed to killing Ruiz Costas and partially burning her body.

Referring to the 12-minute audio leaked by a digital news outlet on Tuesday that included Ruiz Costas’ hearing, González Colón said that although she hadn’t been able to hear the entire clip and remained cautious about forming an opinion on it, “no matter if there is proof or not, these cases must always be handled with sensitivity.”

“I believe that this was, as they say on the street, a wake-up call so that all the judges know that there can be no secrecy, even when the Supreme Court has determined that it will not make public those recordings [of the other hearings in which Ruiz Costas tried unsuccessfully to obtain a protection order],” González Colón said. “I think it was a mistake by the Supreme Court, I think that [the recordings] should have been made public and I think they failed the victim in that regard.”

González Colón also said the case of Ruiz Costas, like the slaying of 27-year-old Keishla Rodríguez Ortiz, represents two cases “widely reviewed by the press, but unfortunately, like these, there are hundreds of cases that are not known.”

Regarding ongoing investigations into the alleged mishandling of the Ruiz Costas case by judges and other officials, the resident commissioner said, “I hope that they will be adjudicated as quickly as possible so that these situations are censured or corrected.”

Also on Tuesday, Women’s Advocate Lersy Boria Vizcarrondo sent proposals to the Legislative Assembly to produce public policies that enforce the requirement of a shackle being worn by any aggressor in violation of Act 54, the increase in penalties for crimes covered by that law, and the certification of legal advocates by women’s rights organizations; and a measure that seeks to repeal the current legislation on the sexual harassment law.

In the lower chamber, meanwhile, the House Committee on Women’s Affairs, chaired by Popular Democratic Party Rep. Jocelyne Rodríguez, passed House Bill 498, penned by New Progressive Party Rep. Wanda del Valle Correa, which seeks to amend the aforementioned law to ensure the provision of medical, psychiatric, psychological, counseling and orientation services to domestic violence victims by all possible means.

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