The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has issued a report following an investigation into the office of County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg in Missoula County, Montana, according to Kim Briggeman of the Missoulan. The report found that prosecutors in the Missoula County office routinely thwarted their responsibilities in cases of sexual assault by saying “terrible things” to victims’ families and failing to prosecute sex crimes in spite of their being sufficient evidence to do so. According to the report, prosecutors told the mother of a five year old rape victim, “boys will be boys,” and told a victim of sexual assault, “all you want is revenge.”
Those were all part of a “disturbing pattern” of deficiencies in the handling of sexual assault cases by the Missoula County Attorney’s Office that place the safety of all women in Missoula at risk, a strongly worded statement from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division said.
Late Friday afternoon, the DOJ released a long-awaited 20-page report on its investigation into the handling of sexual assault cases by County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg and his office.
The report came three days after Van Valkenburg filed a motion asking a U.S. District Court judge to decide whether the Justice Department has jurisdiction over his office. His motion was supported by Missoula County commissioners, who approved releasing $50,000 from the county’s general fund to fight what Van Valkenburg sees as unprecedented interference by the DOJ…
In a statement that accompanied the Justice Department’s report, Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said practices by the Missoula County Attorney’s Office “strongly suggest gender discrimination.”
To wit, she said:
— Sexual assaults of adult women in Missoula are given low priority by the county attorney’s office.
— Van Valkenburg doesn’t provide adequate knowledge or training to deputy county attorneys to effectively and impartially investigate and prosecute sexual assault cases.
— The county attorney’s office, on its own or in cooperation with other law enforcement agencies, “generally does not develop evidence in support of sexual assault prosecutions.”
— Adult women victims are often treated with disrespect, kept uninformed of case status and are “revictimized by the process.”
— And Van Valkenburg’s office fails on a routine basis “to engage in the most basic communication about its cases of sexual assault with law enforcement and advocacy partners.”
The DOJ in May 2012 opened investigations of the Missoula County Attorney’s office, the Missoula Police Department and the University of Montana’s Office of Public Safety based on allegations that the agencies were “systematically failing to protect women victims of sexual assault in Missoula,” the department’s statement said.
Read about the scope and results of the report in the second part of the Missoulan article here.