Tag Archives: valkenburg

Montana Prosecutor Allegedly Told Mother of 5-Year-Old Sexual-Assault Victim That "Boys Will Be Boys"

Mother Jones

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN” “http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd”>

On Friday, the Department of Justice sent a letter to the Missoula County Attorney’s Office in Montana, alleging that it has found “substantial evidence” that prosecutors there systematically discriminate against female sexual-assault victims. According to the DOJ, the office considers sexual-assault cases involving adult women a low priority, often treats these victims with disrespect—quoting religious passages to one woman who reported assault, in a way that made her feel judged—and declines to prosecute some cases in which it has confessions or eyewitnesses, including a case in which Missoula police obtained incriminating statements from a man who admitted to having sexual intercourse with a mentally ill woman, who had asked him to stop.

“We uncovered evidence of a disturbing pattern of deficiencies in the handling of these cases by the County Attorney’s Office, a pattern that not only denies victims meaningful access to justice, but places the safety of all women in Missoula at risk,” wrote Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division, in a statement on Friday.

In a statement emailed to Mother Jones on Saturday, Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg wrote, “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.” Van Valkenburg also told The Missoulian, “There was no effort whatsoever by the DOJ to in any way inform me before they made this thing public.” (A Justice Department spokeswoman told Mother Jones on Saturday that it has reached out to the Missoula County Attorney’s Office “more than a half-dozen times over the past 21 months in an attempt to reach an amicable resolution.” She added, “We remain confident in the integrity of our findings.”)

Attorney General Eric Holder launched its federal investigation into how Missoula authorities handle sexual-assault cases in the spring of 2012. Last year, following the investigation, the Justice Department recommended that the University of Montana and the Missoula Police Department beef up resources to combat rape, and entered into agreements with both offices. In December 2013, the DOJ recommended that the Missoula County Attorney’s Office enter a similar agreement. But since the Justice Department never issued a findings report for the prosecutor’s office—like it did with the university and the police—Van Valkenburg said there wasn’t sufficient evidence of wrongdoing to justify the demands. He also claimed that DOJ was overstepping its legal authority. This month, he declared that he was taking legal action against the DOJ, rather than make changes required by the settlement. Now, the Justice Department has released those findings, noting that the prosecutor’s office failed to provide documents, information, or access to staff during the investigation.

According to the Justice Department’s letter, in one instance, a deputy county attorney in Missoula allegedly quoted religious passages to a woman who’d reported sexual assault “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 Justice Department spoke to a woman whose daughter was sexually assaulted, at the age of five, by an adolescent boy, who was sentenced to two years of community service for the crime. A prosecutor handling the case allegedly told the mother that “boys will be boys.” Another sexual-assault victim discussing prosecution options was allegedly told by a deputy county attorney, “All you want is revenge.”

The Justice Department reported that some women claimed they declined to pursue prosecution because of negative reports they’d heard about the prosecutor’s office. A young woman who was gang-raped as a student at the University of Montana allegedly told the DOJ that her friend decided not to report her own rape to the police or prosecutors after hearing about her experience dealing with the prosecutor’s office. In another case, a clinical psychologist who had counseled numerous sexual-assault survivors in Missoula allegedly told the Justice Department that after she, herself, was sexually assaulted, she was reluctant to have her case prosecuted, given the “horrendous” stories she’d heard.

The Justice Department also determined that, after a review of police files, “in some cases…Missoula Police officers had developed substantial evidence to support prosecution, but the office without documented explanation, declined to charge the case.” According to the DOJ, in one case, police obtained a confession from a man who admitted to raping a woman while she was unconscious, and recommended that he be charged with rape and car theft. The prosecutor’s office allegedly declined to bring charges, citing “insufficient evidence.” In another case, a man admitted to having sex with a mentally ill woman, and said that at some point she asked him to stop and said that he was hurting her—but he wasn’t sure when he’d stopped. The police also recommended rape charges in that case, and the prosecutor declined to bring charges, according to the Justice Department. The DOJ determined that the prosecutor’s office declined to prosecute “nearly every case” involving nonstranger assaults on adult women who had a mental or physical disability, or who were intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.

The Justice Department noted that the prosecutor’s office has made some recent improvements to the office, including requiring deputy county attorneys to attend sexual-assault prosecution training sessions. But the DOJ said that the office still needs to make the “commonsense” improvements it recommended in December. Van Valkenburg told The Missoulian over the weekend that he plans to proceed with his lawsuit and “DOJ should respond to our lawsuit, rather than try to poison the well with this stuff.”â&#128;&#139; He also told Mother Jones the following in January: “The Missoula Police Department and our office have done a very good job of handling sexual-assault allegations regardless of what national and local news accounts may indicate.”

You can view the full DOJ letter here:

width: 630,
height: 450,
sidebar: false,
text: false,
container: “#DV-viewer-1018565-montana-county-attorney-letter-021414”

Missoula County Attorney Letter 2/14/14 (PDF)

Missoula County Attorney Letter 2/14/14 (Text)

Continue reading here – 

Montana Prosecutor Allegedly Told Mother of 5-Year-Old Sexual-Assault Victim That "Boys Will Be Boys"

Posted in Anchor, FF, GE, LAI, LG, ONA, PUR, Radius, Uncategorized, Venta | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Montana Prosecutor Allegedly Told Mother of 5-Year-Old Sexual-Assault Victim That "Boys Will Be Boys"

“She Might Have Had a Case If She Had Been Unconscious During the Rape”

Mother Jones

To Montanans, Missoula is a college town of about 68,000 with a laid-back, hippie vibe. But elsewhere, Missoula is also known as the “rape capital” of the country.

Between January 2008 and May 2012, Missoula police received more than 350 sexual assault reports, including multiple cases of assault allegedly committed by University of Montana football players. The US Department of Justice found that city officials did not adequately handle all of these reports—going so far as to charge that police were using “sex-based stereotypes” to discriminate against women who reported rape. Last month, the Justice Department proposed an agreement that would require the Missoula County Attorney’s office to make a number of changes. DOJ recommended adding two or three new staff positions, including an advocate for victims; ramping up training for county supervisors and prosecutors; and collecting more data on sexual assault cases, including feedback from victims. Last week, the county’s chief prosecutor rejected the offer and told the feds to take a hike, insisting they have no authority to tell his office what to do.

“The DOJ is clearly overstepping in the investigation of my office,” Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg tells Mother Jones. “The Missoula Police Department and our office have done a very good job of handling sexual assault allegations regardless of what national and local news accounts may indicate.”

Missoula’s rape problem rose to national attention when six members of the University of Montana football team, the Grizzlies, were accused of committing, attempting, or helping cover-up sexual assault between 2009 and 2012. In March 2012, facing scrutiny over how it was handling assault allegations leveled against athletes, the university fired its football coach and athletic director. In May 2012, Attorney General Eric Holder said he was launching a federal investigation into whether Missoula officials and the university were discriminating against female rape victims, noting he found the allegations “very disturbing.”

In May 2013, the Justice Department released findings from its investigation, indicating officials in Missoula were indeed discriminating against female victims in sexual assault cases. For example, according to the Justice Department’s report, one Missoula detective allegedly told a woman who said she was vomiting during her sexual assault—she was allegedly raped by several people—that “she might have had a case if if she had been unconscious during the rape rather than merely incapacitated.” In another case where a woman reported vaginal and anal rape, a detective reportedly asked her why she hadn’t fought harder, noting, “tell me the truth—is this something we want to go through with?” (Van Valkenburg says, “Both our office and the police are very much aware of what is necessary to legally prove that a woman who is incapacitated by alcohol and/or drugs did not consent to a sexual act. Local prosecutors fully understand these issuesâ&#128;&#139;.”) The Justice Department also determined that the Missoula attorney’s office provides “no information” to local police as to why it declines to prosecute sexual assault cases and police are “frustrated” with the “lack of follow-up and prosecution.” (Missoula Police Captain Mike Coyler says, “As a general rule, I disagree with this.”)

The month it released those findings, the Justice Department entered into agreements with the University of Montana and the Missoula Police Department to beef up resources to combat rape. (Lucy France, legal counsel for the university, says that she disagrees with the Justice Department’s findings that the university discriminated against victims and botched investigations, but “we agreed to work to continue to improve our responses to reports.”) Last month, the US Attorney for Montana proposed that the Missoula County Attorney’s office enter a similar agreement to ensure that it responds to sexual assault without discrimination. In response, Van Valkenburg wrote in a January 9 letter that his office would commit to help the police department and the university meet their commitments—but he wouldn’t make the Justice Department’s recommended changes to his office.

“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, arguing that the two federal statutes that the Justice Department cites—one of which deals with gender discrimination—do not legally justify imposing changes on his office. The prosecutor is correct that the Justice Department can’t force recommendations on the office, says Christopher Mallios, an attorney advisor for AEquitas, which receives funding from the Department of Justice to help local prosecutors better handle sexual violence cases. But he adds, that if the Justice Department is able to prove civil rights violations in court, a judge could enforce them. Van Valkenburg says that his office is already meeting many of the Justice Department’s demands, and even if he had the funding, he wouldn’t add the three new staff members the feds want, because they’d represent “a duplication of services” provided by other city units. Van Valkenburg says if the Justice Department doesn’t back off in the next two weeks, he will take the issue to federal court.

“I’m not aware of another case where a prosecutor said we would rather litigate and go to trial than make some changes,” Mallios says. And other experts say the prosecutor’s response is unusual: “No prosecutor wants to admit that they have shortcomings, especially on such a sensitive issue,” says Sarah Deer, who worked for the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. “But there is a culture in some offices that sexual assault is sort of overstated or victims tend to lie. That might be what’s going on here—a culture of indifference.”


“She Might Have Had a Case If She Had Been Unconscious During the Rape”

Posted in FF, GE, LAI, LG, ONA, Uncategorized, Venta | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on “She Might Have Had a Case If She Had Been Unconscious During the Rape”