Friday, November 26, 2021
Nov. 26, 2021

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In Our View: Examine domestic violence protections

The Columbian
Published:

Two recent murder arrests should prompt local and state reviews of procedures and laws regarding domestic violence. Both cases are still under investigation, but the facts that have emerged so far are troubling enough to suggest such a review is warranted.

On Oct. 31, a Vancouver man, Gustavo Enrique Villalobos Carranza, picked up his 2-year-old daughter, Brianna, at her mother’s home in Vancouver. According to police, he later called Brianna’s mother and threatened to harm the child, prompting a brief but frantic manhunt. Less than four hours later, he was arrested by Vancouver police. Brianna was found dead.

On Nov. 7, Michael Ryan Murrah allegedly confronted his estranged wife, Monica “Star” Murrah, at her home. Murrah was stabbed to death; the couple’s 8-year-old son was at home during the assault.

Both men have been arrested and jailed. There’s every reason to be confident that they will eventually be held accountable for their actions.

But what if the rules and laws and oversight had been so robust that no one would have been harmed?

Unfortunately, statistics show that domestic violence incidents are common:

  • More than 59,000 domestic violence incidents were reported in Washington last year, accounting for approximately 13 percent of all crimes.
  • More than 70 percent of the victims were women.
  • In Clark County, two people were killed in domestic violence homicides last year, and five died in 2019.

In the Murrah case, allegations of domestic violence date to at least 2017, according to police records. Star Murrah said her husband abused drugs and alcohol, and had bullied, threatened and intimidated her. He claimed she was verbally abusive. In July 2020, she fled to California to stay with family. She tried to obtain a protection order against Michael Murrah, but Clark County Superior Court Commissioner Carin Schienberg denied her request. Despite police reports and statements from Star Murrah’s friends and family, Schienberg denied the order on the grounds that the “preponderance of the evidence has not established there is domestic violence.”

Another troubling local case did lead to changes in the law. Tiffany Hill was a military veteran and a mother of two with a violent husband. She had obtained a protection order against him, which he had violated. After bailing out of jail, he murdered her in a school parking lot in Hazel Dell as she was picking up their children in November 2019.

The next year, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 5149, the Tiffany Hill Act, which allows judges to order electronic monitoring for domestic violence offenders who have been released from jail pending trial. The monitors can be used to notify potential victims when the offender is in their vicinity.

This year, the Legislature passed House Bill 1320, which is intended to improve the accessibility, efficiency and efficacy of protection orders. It may also allow for the narrow definition of domestic violence to be expanded to include coercive control over a victim – which was allegedly a factor in the Murrahs’ relationship.

Domestic violence is a difficult crime to prevent. By definition, the parties are in a relationship, and partners have intimate knowledge about each other that can be exploited. Even in an amicable split, it takes time for the details to be worked out, particularly if children are involved. But we have a duty to protect vulnerable victims. Cases such as Star Murrah’s point out the need to examine our system, find the holes, and try to provide more protection.

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