Did Carmen M. Ortiz Play a Pivotal Role in the Suicide of Aaron Swartz?

Jan 13, 2013
11:58 pm

First published at HispanicTips.com by Tomás Custer.

On Friday, Aaron Swartz was found dead of an apparent suicide. A lot has been written about him, his legacy and the circumstances of his death. (search Google News) He was an Internet pioneer, an activist and a cofounder of the popular website Reddit.


What has emerged from this tragedy is a question that should interest any citizen concerned with how our criminal justice system works or doesn’t work. As his family stated:

Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.

The Latina in Question

Central to this tragedy is a Latina. Carmen M. Ortiz is the United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in November 2009. She is the first Hispanic and the first woman to represent Massachusetts as United States Attorney.

She and her office are all over the news right now. Mr. Swartz’s family is partially blaming her for prosecutorial overreach that contributed to his death. Businessweek has an article entitled: In Web Activist’s Suicide, ‘Intimidation and Prosecutorial Overreach.’

Then there is this from the New York Times.

Mr. Swartz turned over his hard drives with 4.8 million documents, and JSTOR declined to pursue the case. But Carmen M. Ortiz, a United States attorney, pressed on, saying that “stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars.”

Carmen Ortiz’s name is now possibly forever stamped with this event. A quick search of Google News shows just how many times her name is associated with his. So far I could only find one article about this tragedy with her name in the headline, but I suspect that in the days to come there will be many more. This is that article from the Huffington Post entitled: “Dan Kennedy: Aaron Swartz, Carmen Ortiz and the American System of Justice,” and it is particularly interesting:

As a Latina and as a tough law-and-order Democrat, she has been seen as a hot political property in Massachusetts. In 2011 the Boston Globe Magazine named her its “Bostonian of the Year.” She recently told the Boston Herald she was not interested in running for either the U.S. Senate or governor. But that doesn’t mean she couldn’t be persuaded. Now, though, she may be regarded as damaged goods.

The backlash has already begun. There is even a petition over at whitehouse.gov entitled: “Remove United States District Attorney Carmen Ortiz from office for overreach in the case of Aaron Swartz,” with over 9,000 signatures the last time I checked. MIT has even reacted: MIT Responds to Death of Activist Aaron Swartz, Begins Internal Investigation.

I think it is quite clear that Ms. Ortiz played a role in Mr. Swartz’s death. How much exactly is unclear, but in the days and weeks to come, she may wish she had never pursued this case as the story continues to unfold.