ORLANDO, Fla. — After the death of Osceola County mom 33-year-old Nicole Montalvo, A Florida representative is calling for more resources and protection for domestic violence victims.
- 2013 GPS Monitoring in Domestic Violence Injunction Cases Pilot Program was funded by the Florida Legislature
- Program is no longer being funded by the state, leaders say the program should be revisited
- Former judge: Program was successful but funds could not be allocated to keep up with the high demands
- HAVE A TIP? Fill out this form to send an email to the Spectrum News 13 Watchdog Investigations team
State Rep. Anna Eskamani says she believes the system is failing “survivors of domestic violence.” This comes after Osecola County Sheriff’s Office says Montalvo’s estranged husband, Christopher Otera-Rivera, who is charged with her murder, was wearing an ankle monitor at the time of his arrest.
Montalvo dropped her son off at this house and wasn’t seen again, until detectives found her remains days later on the property.
In the days following the discovery of Montalvo’s body, deputies arrested her estranged husband Christopher Otero-Rivera and his father, Angel for murder.
Spectrum News's Watchdog Team later uncovered that Otero-Rivera’s court-ordered ankle monitor never triggered any alerts. The Florida Dept. of Corrections says that’s because he was in compliance.
Former Chief Judge Belvin Perry says there was a program aiming to provide more protections for domestic violence victims, but the state abandoned it years ago.
“The reason we implemented the program was because we had a number of homicides in certain domestic violence cases,” Perry said.
The 2013 GPS monitoring pilot program in Orange and Osceola counties monitored both the victim and offender, and was funded by the state.
“They actually watched the people, their movements, where they could call them and tell them they were going places they should not be. They even could alert law enforcement to go after these people when they got too close to the victim,” Perry said.
Perry says the state abandoned it because of issues with resources and ineffective monitoring. This year there have been 10 domestic violence-related homicides in Orange County, and from 2017 to 2018, sheriff’s records show domestic violence arrests increased 10 percent.
Judge Perry says that pilot program is needed now more than ever.
“The case that really led to this where a young man was shot,” Judge Perry said.
That young man was Alex Zaldivar.
“It is flawed, it will always be flawed”
Rafael Zaldivar knows firsthand how the ankle monitor system can let people down.
Zaldivar lost his son Alex in 2012. The killer, Bessman Okafor, was wearing an ankle monitor.
“He was 19 years old, he was going to college. He lost everything. We are scared for life,” Rafael Zaldivar said.
Though Alex Zaldivar’s case was not centered on domestic violence, Judge Perry says that enhanced GPS ankle monitor pilot program for domestic violence injunction cases was created after Alex’s murder with the hopes of keeping better track of suspects, and protect victims that could potentially be harmed by suspects out of jail with a GPS monitor.
According to court records, Okafor was not properly monitored when the crime occurred. Perry suspended the program in 2013 until a major overhaul in pre-trial release took place. Among the changes was the domestic violence pilot program, which has since been abandoned.
Eskamani wants to bring programs like it back. “I do believe the system as a whole is failing domestic violence survivors, absolutely that is why we have so much work to do,” she said.
But Rafael Zaldivar disagrees, as a longtime critic of GPS monitoring. “It is flawed, it will always be flawed, it doesn’t work.”
In a 2013 interview, Zaldivar said more violent offenders should be kept in jail until trial. He also suggested microchipping suspects.
Among Zaldivar's concerns is one that has been a major obstacle to any GPS monitoring program overall — resources.
“You need millions of dollars, millions to run such a program you need 50 people to monitor all these guys it just depends on how many you got,” Zaldivar said.
That's a cost Eskamani says is worth it, especially if it means saving lives like Nicole Montalvo and Alex Zaldivar.
“I do think that if you can have a program over several years, you will see the cost benefit. Not only are we going to save lives, we are going to save on cost overall,” Eskamani said.
Eskamani says she is also currently working on bill that would remove handguns from the possession of individuals convicted of domestic violence offenses.
At this point, there are no steps in motion to revive that 2013 enhanced ankle monitoring program.