Ortiz case showcases Dominican justice system

Defendants must run gantlet of reporters

THE MEDICAL CARE DAVID ORTIZ is receiving in Boston as he recovers from a gunshot wound is some of the best in the world, but the same superlatives cannot be used in describing the criminal justice process unfolding in the Dominican Republic to bring the gunman and others to account for the attack.

The scene playing out around the courthouse in Santo Domingo has provided the news media with juicy tidbits – like the accused gunman spinning his version of events from a jailhouse window – but it has added more chaos to an already complicated case.

Shouting from his holding cell to someone filming with a cellphone, defendant Rolfi Ferreira Cruz claimed that Ortiz wasn’t his intended target, and suggested he was only given a description of the person he was hired to shoot.

CBS This Morning, which obtained the cellphone video, also showed the gantlet that defendants need to pass through to get from courthouse to jail. Correspondent Mola Lenghi had the gall to describe the prisoner transfer as “more like a rugby scrum” after fully participating in the fracas, frantically and repeatedly asking Ferreira Cruz “did you do it?” as authorities hustled the defendants into pickup trucks.

The former Red Sox slugger is one of the most beloved athletes in Boston and in the Dominican Republic, where he grew up and where he still spends much of his time. Locally, the affection for Big Papi can be attributed to his bright personality and the way he has championed his community in addition to his strength at the plate.

Even in the Dominican Republic, which has one of the world’s highest murder rates, Ortiz traveled with little or no security detail, reports the Associated Press. Eddy Vladimir Feliz Garcia, the alleged motorcycle getaway driver, was beaten down and held by a crowd of people around Dial Bar and Lounge, the outdoor venue where the attack occurred Sunday night.

The Boston Globe has a team of reporters digging into the case, who report that more than a dozen people are implicated in the shooting. The list includes a man named Luis Rivas-Clase, aka “the Surgeon,” who is one of four suspects still at large. Rivas-Clase has been accused of ordering a hit on a man in Reading, Pennsylvania, last year, and a police official there said Rivas-Clase is in charge of a criminal organization.

One theory, according to the Globe, is that the plot to kill Ortiz, which allegedly involved a $7,800 payout to the hired killers, was cooked up by two prisoners – Jose Eduardo Ciprian Lebron, jailed on murder charges, and Carlos Rafael Alvarez, who is imprisoned for robbery.

None of the coverage has spelled out a motive for the hit, but if the criminals who arranged the operation wanted notoriety, they have succeeded in that.

The case has also brought attention to the way criminal justice is practiced in the Dominican Republic, a country with strong cultural and familial ties to Massachusetts.

Nine defendants made an initial appearance in court Thursday evening. The Globe reports the courthouse is “part of a makeshift operation that includes a small, dark jail cell where most detainees wait before they make their initial appearances before a judge in a trailer in the parking lot. The cell, where detainees are visible from behind an iron gate, is cordoned off by barbed wire, and reeks of sweat and urine.”

Maria Cramer, a court reporter covering the case for the Globe, tweeted that a lawyer told her the “entire process — from arraignment to the final decision on culpability — is closed to reporters.”

Access by the public, through the news media, to the court proceedings themselves – as opposed to just the prisoner transfer – would be a useful check on the administration of justice and can be a way to instill public confidence in the system.

While the justice system in the United States remains plagued by its own set of myriad problems, the level of medical care available at certain US hospitals is virtually unparalleled.

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Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

Ortiz was flown to Boston on Monday to be treated at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he is under the care of Dr. David King, and still upbeat, according to his daughter, Alexandria Ortiz. Ortiz’s wife, Tiffany Ortiz, also thanked the medical staff at Abel González Clinic in the Dominican Republic where Ortiz underwent six hours of surgery, stabilizing the 43-year-old before his transfer to Boston.

The medical story has been a good one so far, and fans are no doubt anxious to hear directly from the retired ballplayer once he feels healthy and comfortable enough to do that. The criminal justice story, however, has had some worrying aspects at this early stage.