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Clark County prosecutor calls for changes to law on domestic violence defendants

For the first time in her career, Clark County Deputy Prosecutor Lauren Boyd told a judge that she believed a defendant in a domestic violence case would kill the victim if given the opportunity.

Eleven days later, Boyd’s fears were realized when Keland Hill fatally shot his wife in the parking lot of Sarah J. Anderson Elementary School in Hazel Dell.

“I was devastated,” Boyd said. “This case will be something I think about for the rest of my life.”

As Boyd and many others continue to digest the shooting, the prosecutor has called for changes to state law and the judicial process to prevent domestic violence defendants who exhibit signs of escalating abuse from being released from jail.

“I just want people in general to know how dangerous domestic violence can be and how seriously we need to take these cases,” Boyd said. “I really do think that we need to take a second look at how we are issuing and assigning bail on domestic violence cases.”

In the Nov. 26 shooting, Hill, 38, targeted his wife, Tiffany Hill, 35, as she sat in the front seat of a parked minivan. Her mother suffered injuries that were not life-threatening, and three children also inside the van were physically unhurt. Later that day, Keland Hill shot himself in the head at Padden Parkway and Andresen Road following a brief police pursuit.

The shooting was described by authorities as a tragic escalation following a Clark County Superior Court case that began Sept. 11, when Keland Hill was arrested for allegedly attacking his wife. Over the next 2 1/2 months, his wife reported that he repeatedly violated no-contact and restraining orders through text messages, FaceTime sessions and in person.

He unsuccessfully tried to purchase a rifle at a Multnomah County, Ore., Walmart on Oct. 6, and at one point, attached a black box, with a GPS tracker inside, to the fuel tank of his wife’s car.

Boyd recommended that the Legislature review bail rules for potentially dangerous domestic violence cases. Specifically, she said that defendants who attempt to buy a firearm — in spite of a court order barring them from doing so — should not be allowed to post bail. The prosecutor called such an action on the part of defendants like Keland Hill an indicator that the person is a threat to the victim’s life.

“I think that domestic violence cases can, or have, the potential to be more dangerous. They can turn from misdemeanor to homicide really quickly just given the dynamics in the relationship between the people involved in these domestic violence cases,” Boyd said. “(The defendants) are a great community safety risk. They’re a great risk to the victims of domestic violence.”

While a background check thwarted Keland Hill’s attempt to purchase a rifle on Oct. 6, authorities are still determining how he obtained the gun used in the shooting.

Clark County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Brent Waddell said that deputies have traced the firearm to another area. Waddell wouldn’t elaborate, citing an ongoing investigation. How that weapon ended up in Keland Hill’s hands remains unknown, but the sheriff’s office is working on it, he said.

Deputies are relying on the help of fellow law enforcement agencies to track down information about the gun and move this integral part of the investigation forward, Waddell said. Keland Hill was a “prohibited person,” barred from buying a gun due to the no-contact order, so there could be criminal charges if laws weren’t followed, he said.

Danger assessment

Keland Hill was arrested again Nov. 7 after his wife reported seeing him at several locations. The next day, Clark County Superior Court Judge John Fairgrieve set his bail at $75,000, and Tiffany Hill filled out a danger assessment at the Domestic Violence Prosecution Center.

“I’ve tried to hold back from reporting texting violations in fear of his anger retaliations because nothing happens to him when I report it,” Tiffany Hill wrote in a statement as part of the assessment. “There’s nothing stopping him from trying to kill me. It’s all a game to him, and I’m the one who’s going to lose.”

The danger assessment — developed by a researcher at John Hopkins University — determines the threat level to the victim by a scale that tops out at a score of 41. Tiffany Hill marked on her assessment that her husband threatened to use a weapon against her, threatened to kill her and himself, was violently jealous, spied on and stalked her and increased his level of violence, among other things.

After combing through a sample of 40 assessments in misdemeanor cases since August, Boyd said the average score was 13.5. A score of 18 or above is considered an “extreme risk.” Tiffany Hill was assessed a score of 31.

Boyd said that, while scores are considered by judges in determining bail amounts, they should be given more weight.

After Keland Hill’s second arrest, Boyd filed a motion to increase his bail to $2 million, which was discussed at a Nov. 15 court hearing. It’s the highest bail amount that the prosecutor, who specializes in domestic violence cases and has worked as an attorney in the office since 2015, has ever requested. The motion included a copy of the danger assessment.

“I was intentionally asking for an amount that I didn’t think that he could make bail on because I was worried,” Boyd said.

Fairgrieve instead opted to increase the bail amount to $250,000, which Keland Hill posted five days before the shooting. Fairgrieve told The Columbian last week he “just felt terrible” about the shooting and that it’s not always clear whether someone who violates a no-contact order is hoping to repair the relationship or inflict violence.

Under rules determined by the Washington Supreme Court, Superior Court judges must consider the presumption of release in noncapital cases, even after probable cause is found. A defendant’s likelihood of committing a violent crime, interfering with the administration of justice or failing to appear at a future court hearing are considered.

In making that determination, judges must take the nature of the crime and any warrants or failures to appear into account, along with the defendant’s criminal history, financial status and ties to the community.

Keland Hill was employed, had a local residence and minimal criminal history. He had been arrested in Maryland and North Carolina for abusing his wife, according to prosecutors. But both cases were dismissed.

“There’s a lot of factors that go into setting bail,” Boyd said. “Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars is a relatively high bail for the charges that he was charged with in Clark County, given the fact that he didn’t have any recorded criminal history except for the pending charges.”

Boyd is currently handling about 40 felony domestic violence cases. Every Tuesday, Superior Court administers a domestic violence protection order docket. This week’s docket featured 25 cases.

“I just want to see domestic violence cases as a case apart from all of the other criminal cases,” Boyd said. “We should treat them seriously, and we should change the way that we handle and set bail in these cases.”



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