A Year Later, No End in Sight for University of Montana Probe

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – A year after federal prosecutors announced an investigation into how sexual assaults are handled by the University of Montana and the city of Missoula, the agency has provided no updates and no timeline for its completion.

A recent inquiry to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division resulted in what has become a standard response: “The public safety investigation is ongoing,” the Missoulian reported Wednesday.

The investigation began after the university conducted its own probe in response to allegations of rape involving students.

Civil Rights Division head Thomas Perez led a news conference flanked by prosecutors and city officials in Missoula on May 1, 2012, announcing the federal agency was looking into allegations that police and the county attorney failed to investigate reports of assault or prosecute them.

Prosecutors planned to examine whether gender discrimination hurt the response by the university and law enforcement, Perez said at the time.

The investigation would be transparent and expeditious, he said.

DOJ investigators visited both the university and the police department last summer, conducting one-on-one interviews.

Since then, there have been no updates, and the agency refuses to comment, only saying that the investigation is ongoing.

“I can tell you that the investigation is still open and we continue to cooperate with them in reaching an end to their investigation,” Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir said. But, he added, “I don’t have any estimation of when it will be complete.”

Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg said at last year’s press conference that his office had done nothing wrong and wouldn’t cooperate with it.

“I have not heard anything at all from the Department of Justice regarding their investigation,” he said Tuesday.

A U.S. Department of Education investigation into allegations of harassment against UM’s football team was combined with the Justice Department investigation.

Last May, the NCAA revealed that it had been investigating the Grizzlies football team since the end of January 2012 for unspecified allegations. There has been no update in that investigation, either.

Both UM and the police department said they began working on new policies and training on sexual assault awareness and prevention well before the DOJ announced its investigation.

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