Missoula County Attorney Addresses Sex Assault Investigation

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA — The Missoula County attorney said he is willing to scrutinize the way his office handles sexual assault and rape cases, but he will not cooperate with what he calls a politically motivated Department of Justice probe.

Fred Van Valkenburg spoke Monday at a City Club Missoula luncheon where he partially blamed the Missoulian newspaper for unfairly creating a national story about rape in Missoula.

He said he’s never been told that the number of sexual assault cases investigated and referred to his office are “unusual or out of proportion” with what any community sees.

The DOJ announced in May 2012 an investigation of the way the University of Montana campus police, city police and the county attorney’s office handle reports of sexual assaults.

UM and the city have reached agreements with the agency to make changes, but the DOJ has said Van Valkenburg’s office is not cooperating with the inquiry.

Van Valkenburg said the DOJ demanded information from his office within 25 days and notes that 13 months later, he still hasn’t agreed to their demands and the federal government hasn’t taken the issue to court.

“In my mind, these people have never run into somebody who told them ‘no,’ who said, ‘We’re not going to take it. We’re not just going to roll over and play your game,'” Van Valkenburg said.

Tom Camel, a victim advocate from Ronan, asked Van Valkenburg why he resisted the review, saying: “It seems like it would be a good assessment to do anyway.”

Van Valkenburg said the process has begun, but he did not discuss any findings or a deadline for completion.

Van Valkenburg was asked if he felt pressure to file a rape charge against University of Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson, given the ongoing federal investigation and the results of an outside investigation that found 11 cases of sexual assault at UM between September 2010 and February 2012.

“I can’t say the atmosphere in Missoula didn’t operate in my mind somewhere,” as he considered whether to file charges against UM quarterback Jordan Johnson. Van Valkenburg said.

However, he said his entire staff reviewed the case and felt there was enough evidence to proceed. Johnson was acquitted on March 1 of sexual intercourse without consent.

“I honestly do not think we filed charges because of the DOJ investigation was pending,” Van Valkenburg said.

He said the county attorney’s office “almost immediately” charged former UM player Beau Donaldson when the victim reported in December 2011 that he had raped her in September 2010. Donaldson pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

But he said a reported December 2010 gang rape was not prosecuted because a deputy county attorney reviewed the case and found the victim herself agreed “she never really spoke out saying she was not consenting.”

“That deputy reviewed the case and said, ‘We have nothing to prosecute here. The evidence is so weak,'” Van Valkenburg said.

The DOJ investigation found the Missoula Police Department had, at times, failed to adequately investigate whether a woman was too intoxicated to consent to sex, including in a case where a woman reported several men had sex with her as she passed in and out of consciousness and vomited.

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