Pamplin Media Group – Faulty GPS monitoring could have saved killer from jail

Carlos Jimenez-Vargas apparently breached his release agreement two days before the shooting of his wife and sister-in-law.

The man who shot dead his wife and her sister in the Scholls area on November 16 before killing himself should have been in jail the night the crimes took place – like GPS tracking software showed he had breached the terms of his agreement to be released from prison.

Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton says a failure to properly monitor or report Carlos Jimenez-Vargas’ whereabouts this week resulted in his not being arrested in time to prevent the double homicide.

“I think that he certainly wasn’t in prison at the time of the double murder, I think that could and should have been different,” Barton told Pamplin Media Group.

Released from jail

Following his domestic violence arrest in October, Jimenez-Vargas was under a temporary release agreement that stipulated he was not allowed to have contact with his victims or go to their homes.

However, GPS tracking by a Portland company called VigilNet showed that he visited the home on November 14, just two days before he shot dead Gabriela Jimenez Perez, 43, and Lenin Hernandez Rosas, 38.

A letter Barton wrote to Presiding Judge Kathleen Proctor on Nov. 28 spells out the problem: The victim’s home address was never released by the court to the GPS surveillance company hired to track Jimenez-Vargas.

Because of this, the court never found him to have breached the terms of his dismissal agreement.

“In that case, they’re monitoring him so that we know afterwards where he went and when he was there,” Barton said. “But why? For what purpose? Since VigilNet has no geo-restriction, nothing is triggered. So it’s useless.” PMG FILE PHOTO - Ankle monitoring software shows the man who killed two women on November 16 should have been arrested for visiting the home two days earlier.  But the limited address was never provided by the court to the Washington County criminal tracking company.

VigilNet did not respond to Pamplin Media’s request for details.

Barton said one of the first things his office did was contact VigilNet and see what his ankle monitor found.

During this follow-up, prosecutors discovered that 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 mention – everyone involved is now dead and it cannot be prosecuted,” Barton said.

Barton says the shooting exposed fundamental flaws in the courts’ pre-trial release guidelines and GPS surveillance orders.

Faulty monitoring

For one, GPS monitoring is not a 24/7 operation. Instead, the activities of perpetrators are only monitored during weekday office hours.

Barton said his office had encountered cases where a defendant waited until Friday afternoon to remove his ankle monitor because he knew no one would catch him until Monday morning.

November 14, the day Jimenez-Vargas went to the victims’ home in apparent violation of his pre-trial release agreement, was a Monday. Police say he returned and shot dead his wife and her sister on Wednesday night, November 16.

Second, monitoring someone’s activities isn’t effective unless there’s a quick process to act on it, Barton said.

He contrasted it with a home security alarm, which immediately calls authorities to be dispatched when the alarm goes off.

GPS tracking doesn’t work that way.

Just because someone goes where they don’t belong 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 offender’s arrest, and that warrant is then sent through the mailing channels.

“That’s the other question I asked and why I asked Judge Proctor for a working group (in my letter),” Barton said. “Even in cases where they monitor – even if a court clearance office gives them the address someone shouldn’t be at – how active is that monitoring?”

renewed attention

Senator Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro, called for reform of Oregon’s release-before-trial laws after the Scholls shooting. She pledged to make this a legislative priority as soon as the next session begins.

In a Nov. 22 statement on the double homicide, Sollman said she was also affected by domestic violence.

“As someone who grew up in a home where there was domestic violence, I know that domestic violence is about negative and often violent control,” Sollman said. “We need to expand pre-trial discharge assessments to include crimes of domestic violence and personal violence such as strangulation.”

Proctor responded to Barton’s letter on Dec. 5 and said she was investigating why the restricted address was not included in VigilNet’s tracking system in this case. But she also said there were more factors to consider in this case than just the issue of pre-trial release. PMG FILE PHOTO - The Washington County Circuit Court is to provide the details to VigilNet, the company hired to track criminals' whereabouts via GPS tracking and ankle monitors.

“I think it’s important not to just focus on the single aspect of the pre-trial release decision in this particular case,” Proctor said in her letter, adding, “One of the victims in the recent case filed for a protection order the Family Abuse Prevention Act against Carlos Jimenez Vargas. The judge in that case denied that request.

“We must use the multiple avenues available to us while complying with the law and protecting the rights of victims and defendants,” Proctor continued. “As we continue to expand our pre-trial release program, the court recognizes that there will be opportunities for improvement. I look forward to exploring ways to avoid mistakes and improve pretrial release in our county.”

She agreed to meet with Barton and other public safety partners to discuss the matter further, but declined to speak to Pamplin Media because the case is pending.

Barton says it’s unfortunate that two victims died before the flaws in the system were investigated more closely.

“The court has known about these GPS problems for a long time … and sometimes a terrible, terrible tragedy finally gets some change,” Barton said. “I’m confident this will at least spark a conversation about how to ensure GPS data is arriving at the right place.”

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