Keland Hill was arrested in September 2019 for pushing his wife, 35-year-old Tiffany Hill of Vancouver, into a wall and preventing her from calling 911. About two months later, he was arrested again after putting a GPS tracker on her car.
Less than a month later, Tiffany Hill was dead — shot and killed by Keland Hill in front of her three children and mother.
Her life may have been saved if she was alerted her abuser was near.
Tiffany Hill is the reason why, two years ago, Clark County became the first county in the state to implement an electronic monitoring system that alerts domestic violence victims and law enforcement when an offender gets too close. Now, the country of Georgia — where the United Nations reports one in seven women experience domestic violence — hopes to do the same.
Seven Georgian delegates visited Clark County this week to learn about how it implemented its victim notification system, as well as other electronic monitoring systems for alcohol and drug use. The delegates will next visit Los Angeles to learn about its systems.
“The victim has the right to feel more safe,” Georgian Deputy Prosecutor General Natia Merebashvili said. “We think and we hope that this electronic monitoring system will be one more alternative to guarantee his or her safety.”
Clark County’s advice
For a year, Bryan Farrell wore a GPS ankle device meant for domestic violence offenders that set off an alarm when he came near Tanya Wollstein.
But Farrell is not an offender; he’s the Clark County District Court administrator. Wollstein is a Vancouver police sergeant.
“One thing I want to say is if you’re going to go into this type of a program, definitely test this equipment out. Do live testing,” Farrell told the Georgian officials. “Make sure you understand the capabilities, the functionality. This took us a year to actually implement. We set a policy and a protocol and revised and revised and revised.”
Georgian and Clark County officials gathered Monday at the Public Service Center to discuss the intricacies of the county’s electronic monitoring systems and pass around monitoring devices.
The program works like this: If someone is arrested on domestic violence allegations and is perceived as a threat to the victim if released, the judge may enroll them in the electronic monitoring system. An ankle bracelet is programmed and fitted before their release.
Certain exclusion zones, such as the victim’s residence, work or family’s home, are programmed into the device. If the offender goes into these zones, the monitoring center notifies 911. It also tells the offender through a speaker on the device to move out of the exclusion zone. A 95-decibel siren goes off on the ankle bracelet.
The victim has the option to download an app, which alerts them if the offender is near. They get a notification, text message and email if the offender is within 1,000 feet of them.
The app also warns them if the offender is within 1,000 feet of an exclusion zone. Once the offender breaches the 1,000-foot boundary of the zone, law enforcement is notified. There are two buttons on the app: one that calls 911 and another that calls a phone number of the victim’s choosing.
However, victims do not have to download the app for the notification program to be in place. They won’t receive notifications, but law enforcement will if the offender enters those exclusion zones.
“We actually decided as a court that we would be ordering (the program) on cases that we felt were the most severe and the highest risk of reoffending or harming the victim, without the victim asking for it,” Farrell said.
More than half of victims are now participating in the program. Wollstein and Farrell said they noticed an increase after Kirkland Warren was accused of killing his former girlfriend, Meshay Melendez, and her 7-year-old daughter, Layla, earlier this year. Their bodies were found in a rural area east of Washougal. Warren is awaiting trial.
Georgia, a country of 4.9 million nestled between Russia and Turkey, does have some electronic monitoring system technology available. But it’s not used on pretrial defendants and its scope is limited, said Lana Owen, resident legal adviser.
There are concerns in Georgia over the number of pretrial defendants in custody in domestic violence cases, she said. Clark County’s victim notification system may be a way for Georgia to reduce that population while still protecting victims.
Having an electronic monitoring system as an alternative to detainment may allow more victims to come forward, said Tatiana Pataraia, a staff attorney for the U.S. Embassy in Georgia. She said domestic violence victims don’t always see confinement for their offenders as the best option.
The Tiffany Hill Act
State Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, told Georgian officials what it’s like to grow up in a household where domestic violence is present.
“I got used to hiding, just pretending to be asleep … and feeling entirely helpless,” she told the Georgian officials Tuesday at the Clark County Courthouse.
Her experience is partly what motivated her to sponsor a state law requiring counties to use domestic violence victim notification systems. Her bill is known as the Tiffany Hill Act.
Georgia is looking at ways it can incorporate domestic violence protections, like Washington’s Tiffany Hill Act, into its legislation. Wilson told the officials the law isn’t perfect.
Although many domestic violence advocates applauded the legislation, it’s been slow to roll out.
Only Clark County has a victim notification system that can contact both the victim and law enforcement, Farrell said.
Wilson suspects this may be because the Tiffany Hill Act did not have funding built into it.
“Because the only way to get the bill through was with basically no funding, it fell on the jurisdiction,” Wilson said.
The offender is required to pay for the monitoring, which is about $600 a month, according to Wollstein, the Vancouver police sergeant.
Wilson was later able to secure about $2 million for offenders who could not afford the equipment. Clark County is using some of that funding for its own system, which Wilson calls “the gold standard.” The Clark County Council passed a budget Tuesday including permanent funding for the victim notification program.
The Georgian officials asked several questions around how the state informed the public about the law and the most common reasons for domestic violence in the United States.
“Georgia is still a little bit in a place where the society has yet to fully recognize that domestic violence is a state issue, that domestic violence is a public matter, and not something that the victim should be ashamed of,” said Owens, the legal adviser to Georgia.
But the country has made progress, she said.
Now, officials hope a system similar to Clark County’s will help save lives in Georgia.
“This is just one of the areas where we take U.S. best practices and implement them in our country,” said Pataraia, the staff attorney.
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.