In 2012 Attorney General Eric Holder’s office was made aware of the possibility that the handling of rape cases in the city of Missoula, Montana left something to be desired. A college town, Missoula has a relatively high number of reported rapes but it appeared that there was a pattern of non stranger rapes of adult women being ignored. Accordingly the DOJ contacted the University police, Missoula city police and the county attorney’s office and informed them that an investigation was being launched.
Campus police and the city police cooperated with the U.S. attorney’s office in the investigation and in May 2013 reached cooperative agreements with the DOJ. The DOJ says that since that time both agencies have made great strides in improving the way that they handle these cases although Lucy France, legal counsel for the university, said that she disagrees with the findings of the U.S. Attorney she also said, “we agreed to work to continue to improve our responses to reports.”
Last month the County Attorney, Fred Van Valkenburg was asked to enter into a similar agreement to improve the way his office handles rape reports and not only did he refuse to do so he challenged the authority of the DOJ to even conduct an investigation of his office. On Tuesday of last week Van Valkenburg’s office filed a motion with the U.S. District Court in Missoula seeking a declaratory judgement to that effect.
“Missoula County Attorneys Office does not need to enter into an agreement with DOJ to protect victims of sexual assault, [we have] actively assisted victims for years,” Van Valkenburg wrote, after refusing to make the suggested changes in the way his office approaches a rape case.
On Friday the Attorney General’s office sent a letter to Van Valkenburg’s office detailing the findings of its investigation:
“Despite their prevalence in the community, sexual assaults of adult women are given low priority in the County Attorney’s Office;
· The County Attorney does not provide Deputy County Attorneys with the basic knowledge and training about sexual assault necessary to effectively and impartially investigate and prosecute these cases;
· The County Attorney’s Office generally does not develop evidence in support of sexual assault prosecutions, either on its own or in cooperation with other law enforcement agencies
· Adult women victims, particularly victims of non-stranger sexual assault and rape, are often treated with disrespect, not informed of the status of their case and revictimized by the process; and
· The County Attorney’s Office routinely fails to engage in the most basic communication about its cases of sexual assault with law enforcement and advocacy partners.”
Among the horror stories told by rape victims in Missoula was a case in which the victim reported having a deputy county attorney quote religious passages to her “in a way that the victim interpreted to mean that the Deputy County Attorney was judging her negatively for have made the report.”
In another case the mother of a five year old girl who had been raped by an adolescent boy who was sentenced to two years of community service after scarring her daughter for life was told by the prosecuting attorney that “boys will be boys.”
The DOJ investigation found, after reviewing police records that “in some cases…Missoula Police officers had developed substantial evidence to support prosecution, but [the office] without documented explanation, declined to charge the case.” In one such case police obtained a confession from the rapist that he had sexual relations with an unconscious woman before driving off in her car, police recommended that he be charged with rape and car theft but the county attorney declined to prosecute due to “insufficient evidence.”
The investigation found that these are not anomalous cases, in nearly every case where an adult woman knew her assailant the prosecutor declined to bring charges even if the woman was intoxicated, drugged or mentally or physically disabled.
Van Valkenburg is standing by his claim that his office has done nothing wrong. In an email to Mother Jones he stated, “I think that everything the DOJ is saying about our office is false. These people are as unethical as any I have ever seen. They obviously have a political agenda they want to push and the truth does not matter to them.”
He has also claimed that the DOJ has never made any attempt to contact his office before going public with these charges although a spokesman for the Department told Mother Jones on Saturday that they made numerous attempts to reach an agreement with Van Valkenburgs office over the last 21 months to no avail.
h/t: Mother Jones