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Feb. 22, 2020

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Constitutional amendment for denying bail dies in Legislature

Rep. Sharon Wylie-sponsored legislation reaction to killing of Tiffany Hill

By , Columbian staff reporter
Published:

A second proposal to change state law following the shooting death of Tiffany Hill appears to have died in this year’s Legislature.

Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, proposed amending the state Constitution so judges could deny bail to a defendant who violates a court order by obtaining or attempting to obtain a gun.

Last week, the House Public Safety Committee held a public hearing on Wylie’s constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 4210, and a companion proposal, House Bill 2569. Neither was passed out of committee before Friday’s first cutoff to move legislation during the 60-day session.

Wylie acknowledged her bills will not pass this year, but she intends to continue working on the issue during the interim before the 2021 Legislature.

“A constitutional amendment in a short session is a heavy lift,” Wylie wrote in a text to The Columbian. “There needs to be much public involvement to make a change of this kind. Most people do not know about the constitutional right to bail and assume bail keeps dangerous people away from the public. Unfortunately, that is not true.”

The Washington Constitution, Article 1, Section 20, guarantees the right to pretrial release on bail, except for capital offenses or when the defendant faces life imprisonment and there is compelling evidence that the defendant is a danger to the community.

Voters added that second exemption in November 2010, with the amendment receiving an overwhelming 84.6 percent of the statewide vote. The change came after four Lakewood police officers were shot and killed on Nov. 29, 2009, in a Tacoma-area coffee shop by an assailant who had been released on bail days earlier.

Shooting outside school

Tiffany Hill, 35, was shot and killed by her estranged husband in her minivan Nov. 26 outside Sarah J. Anderson Elementary School. Keland Hill fled the scene and, following a short police chase, killed himself with a single shot to the head.

Keland Hill was arrested for domestic violence following a Sept. 11 incident at the couple’s home. He was released on bail but arrested again for violating terms of his release by repeatedly contacting his wife. He also attached a GPS tracker to her vehicle and tried to purchase a rifle in Oregon.

Lauren Boyd, the county prosecutor in the case, told Clark County Superior Court Judge John Fairgrieve that she feared Keland Hill would kill his wife if released and filed a motion for a $2 million bail. On Nov. 15, Fairgrieve increased his bail from $75,000 to $250,000.

Keland Hill still posted bail. Days later, he waited for 30 minutes outside the Hazel Dell school before he shot his wife and mother-in-law, who survived the shooting. The couple’s three children were in the back seat of the minivan and were not physically hurt.

Hearing testimony

During a Feb. 4 hearing before the House Public Safety Committee, Wylie said Tiffany Hill, police and prosecutors did everything possible within the law.

“The question people were asking is how can he be out on bail?” Wylie told the committee. “He scored very high on a risk assessment tool that our domestic violence unit uses, very high, the highest they ever had.”

Tanya Wollstein, a Vancouver police detective assigned to the case, supported Wylie’s bills and said she believes the only action that would have saved Tiffany Hill’s life was for her husband to be in jail.

“I have heard people say that Tiffany fell through the cracks,” Wollstein said. “The truth is that Tiffany didn’t fall through the cracks. The case was not mishandled, she wasn’t not believed. She was believed by myself, by the county deputies, by the prosecutor.”

James McMahan, policy director for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, also supported the bill and constitutional amendment. The Tiffany Hill case wasn’t a failure of the system, he said, but “a failure of the adequacy of the law.”

McMahan acknowledged that balancing the right to bail and public safety are tough discussions.

“We can’t afford to get this wrong,” he said. “I also would argue that we can’t afford to do nothing.”

Neil Beaver, a lobbyist for the Washington Defenders Association and Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, opposed Wylie’s legislation.

“This bill would create a new category of cases that are not capital cases or cases that do not involve life sentences,” he said.

Beaver said that Fairgrieve had discretion to set stringent conditions under Washington Superior Court Criminal Rule 3.2, such as barring a defendant from possessing weapons, consuming liquor or nonprescribed drugs, or traveling outside a specified area.

Senate Bill 5149

Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, chair of the House Public Safety Committee, indicated some reluctance to proceed with Wylie’s legislation because “bail is guaranteed for a whole host of other offenses that are arguably more serious” than the charges Keland Hill faced.

The state Senate last month unanimously approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, to provide electronic monitoring of domestic violence suspects and real-time victim notification. Senate Bill 5149 has been referred to the House Public Safety Committee.

Goodman said House Democrats already have discussed the bill in caucus.

“That is a very important bill that arises out of the same case and something we have been considering for years,” he said. “That is a practical measure that at least we will be able to take this year.”

Washington Defenders Association and Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers oppose SB 5149, referring to it as “good intentions, bad law” in an online position paper.

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