The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

March 22, 2014

GPS seen as weapon against domestic assaults

Rep. Clark Johnson authors bill in House

ST. PAUL — Unearned as it seems, Jamie Erickson has some guilt about the murder of Josselyn Bishop.

At that time in her life, Josselyn’s friends shared a goal — keeping her away from her former boyfriend, Damone Christopher Williams-Tillman.

To that end, Erickson helped Bishop move into an apartment he managed.

On the day she was killed, July 8, 2011, Erickson barely missed Williams-Tillman picking Bishop up in his car. She had consented to the car ride, apparently willing to talk one last time.

In the years since, Erickson has been talking about Bishop’s death as a case study in domestic violence. And he’s been thinking — if technology keeps drunken drivers honest, why can’t it separate abusers from victims?

In 2012, Ramsey County started a pilot project to attach ankle bracelets to accused abusers. Though GPS tracking has been used in domestic violence cases before, the Ramsey County program goes further by allowing the victim to carry a device, as well. If a threshold is crossed — either three or five miles in the Ramsey County program — the defendant is warned by text message and told to leave.

A key distinction from other GPS monitoring is that this system is real-time — police can respond in time to prevent another assault, instead of merely verifying someone’s location after-the-fact.

And while GPS tracking is sometimes ordered by a judge as a condition of probation, after a conviction, this effort uses the technology before trial, as a condition of release from jail.

Erickson, who now lives in Le Sueur, testified recently about a bill at the Legislature that would expand the program statewide. Its chief author in the House is Clark Johnson, a North Mankato Democrat. He’s been working on the bill since last summer, and its passage through three committees has helped assuage concerns on what he acknowledges is a sensitive issue.

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