The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

March 22, 2014

GPS seen as weapon against domestic assaults

Rep. Clark Johnson authors bill in House

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“I think this bill is going to save lives,” Erickson said.

Pat McDermott, assistant Blue Earth County attorney, is also a supporter.

“It’s one more useful tool to use from a public safety standpoint,” he said.

Johnson’s House bill has passed through its relevant committees, but its Senate counterpart, sponsored by Woodbury Democrat Susan Kent, hasn’t progressed as far. The bill must pass at least one Senate committee by March 28 or risk being set aside until next year.

More than paper

The traditional method to keep defendants away from victims is a no-contact order from a judge. In many cases, including some in south-central Minnesota, it hasn’t been enough.

On Thursday, Jan. 13, 2010, Shawn Haugen was released from jail after posting bond on a $20,000 bail and being ordered, again, not to contact his victim, Ashley Sullivan. That Sunday morning, he killed Sullivan and her stepfather, Chet Gronewold, at their Lewisville home. He later killed himself.

The GPS proposal can’t prevent every assault, but it is aimed at giving law enforcement a chance to intervene. The threshold distance that triggers police notification is measured in miles, not feet, to give police time to protect the victim.

The bill allows courts around the state to set different thresholds. In sparsely-populated northern Minnesota, it might be set higher. If both victim and accused worked in, say, Mankato, the threshold may have to be lowered or else the GPS not used at all.

The bill requires that the GPS monitoring be in real-time, meaning that it’s monitored at all times and not simply reviewed at certain intervals. It also requires the victims give their consent before the program is used.

Erickson said the tracking has other benefits, including that it helps victims and their families feel more secure.

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