Attorney General Wants Evidence in Missoula Cases

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA — Montana’s attorney general is asking the U.S. Justice Department to send him the evidence in sexual assault cases the agency believes the Missoula County attorney’s office should have prosecuted but didn’t.

Attorney General Tim Fox made the request in a letter to Montana U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter on Thursday, the Missoulian reported. DOJ spokeswoman Emily Pierce said Friday the agency has received the letter and is reviewing it.

“All confidential or private information provided to this office will be subject to applicable state and federal laws,” wrote Fox, who has statutory authority over locally elected prosecutors.

A Justice Department report released on Feb. 14 said after reviewing police files, investigators found evidence that there were rape cases the county attorney’s office declined to prosecute despite having confessions and other evidence. It also interviewed 30 women, many of whom said they weren’t informed about the status of their cases or about potential plea agreements.

The DOJ said it also found that the county attorney’s office declined to prosecute nearly every case of non-stranger assault involving an adult woman victim who was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or when the accuser had a mental or physical disability.

Investigators said they found an “institutionalized indifference to crimes of sexual violence” in the county attorney’s office, which they said harms the office’s ability to protect victims of crime or handle sexual assault cases fairly. They argued the actions of the county attorney’s office makes victims less likely to come forward and leaves criminals out on the streets.

Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg rejected the allegations in the DOJ report, calling them “half-truths, mistruths and maybe even outright lies.”

The Department of Justice announced in May 2012 that it was investigating the way sexual assaults reports were investigated and prosecuted in the Missoula area. The department reached agreements with Missoula police and University of Montana campus security that called for more training and policy changes. Van Valkenburg has declined to cooperate with the investigation and has asked a federal judge to determine if the DOJ even has the authority to investigate his office.

Fox’s letter notes the DOJ told the attorney general’s office in June 2012 that it would turn over any new evidence to the state.

“I assume that these cases were not referred to our office for review during the course of USDOJ’s investigation because there was no new evidence,” Fox wrote.

“However, I am extremely concerned about allegations of gender discrimination and bias, and I am even more concerned about USDOJ’s determination that there are victims of crime who may have been wronged and denied justice, and that there are criminals who have not received the just punishment they deserve.”

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