Faulty GPS tracking may have kept killer out of jail
The man who shot and killed his wife and her sister in the Scholls area on Nov. 16 before killing himself should have been in jail the night the crimes occurred — as GPS tracking software showed he'd violated the terms of his jail release agreement.
Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton says a failure to properly monitor or report Carlos Jimenez-Vargas' whereabouts that week led to him not being arrested in time to prevent the double homicide.
"I think that certainly him not being in jail at the time when the double murder happened, I think that's something that could have been and should have been different," Barton told Pamplin Media Group.
Released from jail
Jimenez-Vargas was under a pretrial release agreement after being arrested for a domestic violence case in October, which stipulated that he was to have no contact with his victims and could not go to their house.
However, GPS tracking provided from a Portland firm called VigilNet showed he visited the house on Nov. 14, just two days before he shot and killed Gabriela Jimenez Perez, 43, and Lenin Hernandez Rosas, 38.
In a letter written by Barton to Presiding Judge Kathleen Proctor on Nov. 28, the problem is laid out: The victim's home address was never given by the court to the GPS monitoring company contracted to track Jimenez-Vargas.
Because of this, it was never flagged by the court that he violated the conditions of his release agreement.
"In this case they are monitoring him, so we can, after the fact, know everywhere he went and when he went there," Barton said. "But why? For what purpose? Because there's no geographic restriction on him, as far as VigilNet is concerned, nothing gets triggered. So, it's useless."
VigilNet did not respond to Pamplin Media's request for details.
Barton said one of the first things his office did was reach out to VigilNet and see what its ankle monitor found.
It was during that follow-up that prosecutors discovered Jimenez-Vargas had violated his release agreement. But it was already too late to do anything about it.
"This is a domestic violence case where — not to be blunt, but — everyone involved is dead now and it can't be prosecuted," Barton said.
Barton says the shooting has exposed fundamental flaws in the courts' pretrial release policies and the GPS monitoring orders.
For one, GPS monitoring is not a 24/7 operation. Instead, offenders' activity is only monitored during office hours on weekdays.
Barton said his office has encountered cases where a defendant waited until Friday afternoon to remove their ankle monitor, knowing that no one would catch it until Monday morning.
Nov. 14, the day Jimenez-Vargas apparently went to the victims' home in violation of his pretrial release agreement, was a Monday. Police say he returned and shot and killed his wife and her sister on Wednesday evening, Nov. 16.
For another, monitoring someone's activity isn't effective unless there is a fast process to act on it, Barton said.
He contrasted it to a home security alarm, which immediately calls the authorities to be dispatched if the alarm is triggered.
GPS monitoring doesn't work that way.
Just because someone goes where they're not supposed to doesn't mean they will be arrested on the spot. Instead, the court flags the activity — assuming the violation is noticed and reported — and issues a warrant for the violator's arrest, and then that arrest warrant works its way through dispatch channels.
"That's the other question I posed and why I asked Judge Proctor for a workgroup (in my letter)," Barton said. "Even in cases where they are monitoring — even if a court release office does give them the address where someone's not supposed to be — how active is that monitoring?"
Sen. Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro, called for reforms to Oregon's pretrial release laws following the shooting in Scholls. She committed to making it a legislative priority once the next session begins.
In a Nov. 22 statement responding to the double homicide, Sollman said she has also been affected by domestic violence.
"As someone that grew up in a home where domestic violence was present, I know that domestic violence is about negative, and often violent control," Sollman said. "We must expand pretrial release assessments to include crimes of domestic violence and personal violence, such as strangulation."
Proctor responded to Barton's letter on Dec. 5, saying she is investigating why the restricted address wasn't in VigilNet's tracking system in this case. But she also said that there are more factors to consider in this case than just the pretrial release issue.
"I think it is important to not just focus on the single aspect of the pretrial release decision in that specific case," Proctor said in her letter, adding: "One of the victims in the recent case sought a Family Abuse Prevention Act protection order against Carlos Jimenez Vargas. The judge in that case denied that petition."
"We need to use multiple avenues at our disposal while following the law and protecting the rights of victims and defendants," Proctor continued. "While we continue to build our pretrial release program, the court recognizes that there will be opportunities to improve. I look forward to looking at ways to prevent errors and to improve pretrial release in our county."
She agreed to meet with Barton and other public safety partners to discuss the matter further, though she declined to speak with Pamplin Media because the case is still open.
Barton says it's unfortunate that two victims died before the flaws in the system started to be looked at more closely.
"The court has known about these GPS issues for a long time … and sometimes a terrible, terrible tragedy finally gets some change," Barton said. "I am hopeful that this will trigger at least a conversation about how to make sure GPS data gets to the right spot."
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