IF YOU BELIEVE THE WITNESSES who have testified in Jose Omar Ortiz’s bid for a new trial, then two decades ago Springfield police bullied their way to a confession for a murder and they got the wrong man.
For starters, another person testified last week that he – not Ortiz – killed Eddy Reynoso in 1999 and Ortiz had nothing to do with it. That other man, Ramon Santana, is already serving two life sentences for a Holyoke murder in 2000, so he doesn’t have that much to lose by confessing to the Reynoso killing. Santana has refused to say who his accomplices were in the killing, prompting the prosecutor to try to throw out his testimony.
Then there is Carlos Rodriguez, who was a friend of Ortiz at the time of the murder. Rodriguez signed a statement for police years ago that said he was there when Ortiz killed Reynoso. But
Rodriguez now says that he didn’t know what he was signing for police at the time because he couldn’t read English. He says police scooped him up and beat him and screamed at him and told him that signing the statement was “your way out.” The police, according to Rodriguez, told him that Ortiz was trying to pin blame for the murder on him.
Another witness, Wilbert Diaz, worked with Ortiz and Reynoso at a store before Reynoso was killed, and he said Ortiz could not have been the killer. Ortiz’s old defense lawyer had planned to call Diaz to the stand during the murder trial, but he couldn’t track him down. More recently, Ortiz’s lawyers discovered that the prosecutor had an updated address for Diaz during that trial.
Ortiz himself signed a confession saying he had killed Reynoso, but his lawyers now claim that was “the product of coercion by police after seven hours of interrogation,” according to the Republican newspaper. The confession was in English, but Ortiz allegedly only spoke Spanish, the paper reported.
These would be serious charges for any police department to withstand: Two people testifying that police coerced false statements from them, and a third man emerging to claim that the confessions were untrue because he was the one who committed the murder.
The Springfield Police Department is already weathering a host of other scandals that could shake faith in law enforcement for the state’s third largest city. As uncovered by the Republican, a detective admitted to lying to internal investigators about the police beating of a suspect in 2016. Surveillance footage has thrown into doubt another officer’s claims that a man who had a complaint about a parking ticket assaulted him in the police headquarters in 2017. A school resource officer now says that his false claim that a student shoved him before he threw the student up against the wall was a mistake, not a deliberate lie.
Acting Police Chief Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood proactively admitted to the Republican that she filed a false police report in 1989, but she said the lie was a relatively minor one relating to her use of a departmental vehicle off-duty. Dan Glaun, a reporter for the paper, dug a little deeper and learned that she had been indicted on charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, filing a false report, and a civil rights violation after allegedly following someone while off-duty in an undercover vehicle three decades ago. She was found guilty of filing a false report but not the more serious charges, and her record was finally cleared when she filed a motion for a new trial in 2013 that was unopposed by Mark Mastroianni, who was then the district attorney and is now a federal judge. The records of that incident are now sealed.
In Ortiz’s case, one of the officers who interrogated Rodriguez is still with the department, according to the Republican, and the other has left. Both are expected to testify in the motion hearing on March 26.