“I would be nervous to say that just because the victim stated in the police report that they are fearful of the defendant that this is enough information to allow us to believe that they will actually use GPS monitoring — we all know how DV works,” Senior Deputy Prosecutor Lauren Boyd writes in the policy.
Murder spurs new law
The option for GPS monitoring of defendants in domestic violence cases came to be after Tiffany Hill, a former Marine sergeant, was fatally shot by her estranged husband Nov. 26, 2019, in her minivan outside Sarah J. Anderson Elementary School in Hazel Dell.
Hill’s estranged husband had been freed on bail and blocked by court order from having contact with her before tracking Hill to the school, where he shot her and his mother-in-law, who survived her injuries, in front of the couple’s three children. He killed himself following a short police chase.
Afterward, the state significantly strengthened protections for domestic violence victims with protection orders. Senate Bill 5149, also known as the Tiffany Hill Act, was sponsored by Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, and signed into law March 9, 2020, allowing judges to order electronic monitoring for domestic violence offenders who are released pending trial. It provides real-time alerts to the victim and police when the offender violates the distance provision of the protection order.
“As the prime sponsor of the legislation that eventually became the Tiffany Hill Act, I have questions about the Melendez case,” Wilson said in an emailed statement Thursday. “But I will also say Clark County has done an exemplary job of putting the Tiffany Hill law into action on behalf of domestic-violence victims, and I am not going to rush to judgment about what prosecutors did or did not do.”
Both Wilson and Sen. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, said attention needs to be given to bail policies in such cases.
“I don’t know what went wrong and what could have been different in this particular case, but my heart hurts,” Wylie said in a phone interview Thursday.
Clark County was the first Washington county to implement the electronic monitoring program, which launched June 1, 2021, about a year after the Tiffany Hill law went into effect, according to Clark County District Court Administrator Bryan Farrell, who oversees the program. He said only Clark and King counties are using the program statewide.
“Of course, for us, it was front and center, it was very important for us to build the program, whether it be required by law. It was one of the biggest priorities we had after the Tiffany Hill incident,” Farrell said.
The county averages about 20 clients using the equipment daily, he said. That average is between both District and Superior courts, which order about the same number of referrals. District Court refers slightly more, likely due to fourth-degree domestic violence assault being a misdemeanor, he said.
Meshay Melendez and Layla Stewart
The prosecutor’s office’s policy is to not ask for electronic monitoring unless the victim in the case wants it.
“We likely will not have this information at first appearance, so we shouldn’t be making a request for it at first appearance and should be objecting to defense request for the monitoring instead of a higher bail,” the document reads.
The policy states once prosecutors have had an opportunity to talk to victims and determine they would participate, prosecutors should bring the cases back before a judge to request the resource.
Court records do not indicate if Melendez was unwilling to support electronic monitoring, but they do indicate she had attempted to get charges against Warren dropped.
There are numerous reasons a domestic violence victim might not want a no-contact order or electronic monitoring in place, said Jake Fawcett with the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. He noted sometimes people rely on their abusers for housing, transportation and child care.
Domestic Violence Resources
The YWCA Clark County offers a 24-hour crisis hotline for domestic violence at 360-695-0501 or toll free at 800-695-0167. People can also call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 800-799-7233.
“I think paying attention to what a particular survivor needs and wants in each situation is really important,” he said. “It’s important to think through what it looks like on the ground and in practice to know what’s going to make this work for survivors in real life.”
Ultimately, he said, inconsistency and ambiguity in the justice system can leave victims feeling vulnerable and lacking trust in the protections the courts may offer.
“Survivors are between a rock and a hard place, where on one hand they have an abuser who is threatening them and threatening to escalate violence if they report them or leave or do those things, and on other hand, they have a legal system that sometimes can make them safer and sometimes doesn’t,” he said.
Beyond court-ordered resources, Fawcett noted the importance of connecting with a domestic violence advocate, who can help people create a safety plan and understand the process.
How it works
Judges order GPS ankle devices — more often than not — for defendants who are already in custody, as a condition of release. The devices must be installed before a defendant walks out of the Clark County Jail, Farrell said.
The process is the same for either court: A judge checks the box for the device and then the county sends a referral to its vendor, 2 Watch Monitoring. The vendor coordinates with the jail, and once a defendant has cleared all other conditions of release, 2WM responds to install the equipment. It handles all of the programing to set up stationary exclusion zones, such as a victim’s residence, workplace and relatives’ homes.
Victims are not required to use the mobile app for the program to be in place. If the victim wants to participate in the program, as well, 2WM will install a mobile app for a mobile exclusion zone.
The standard default for a no-contact order is typically 1,000 feet. But the program adds a 1,000-foot buffer to that, for a 2,000-foot radius, Farrell said.
If a defendant breaches that zone, the victim will receive push notifications and text and email reminders to put their safety plan in place. There are also two programmable buttons — a panic button for 911 and a second one for a number of their choosing.
The defendant is also alerted if they’ve breached the zone.
The monitoring center will call the defendant’s bracelet, which is equipped with a speaker and microphone, and vibrate if they come within the 1,000 foot buffer of the stationary zone. If they continue into the exclusion zone, the monitoring center will call Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency and report a restraining order violation in progress, and law enforcement is contacted, Farrell said.
For the mobile exclusion zones, the defendant is not alerted if they are in proximity to the victim; only the victim is notified. Instead, the program will analyze whether the breach was accidental or intentional, Farrell said. The bracelets ping GPS satellites every minute, resulting in a sort of bread-crumb trail.
Farrell said he doesn’t know why more counties aren’t implementing the program; though, he speculated it’s due to the cost.
The device runs $21 per day, which includes the cost of the victim’s app if they decide to use it. That cost lands on the defendant, unless they’re deemed to be indigent.
Washington, through the Tiffany Hill Act, allocated $1.8 million through June 30 of this year to help pay for indigent defendants using the program, Farrell said.
It’s unclear what will happen when the money runs out. Farrell said it’s back in front of the Legislature for funding consideration for another year, though that remains to be seen. There’s currently no county budget for it, he said.
National Women's Coalition Against Violence & Exploitation has established a Memorial Fund for Meshay "Karmen" Melendez and Layla Stewart.