Scandal Erupts in Missoula County, Montana Over DOJ Investigation of Sexual Assault Cases

| by Allison Geller

The U.S. Department of Justice released a shocking report about the mishandling of sexual assault cases in Missoula County, Montana, the result of a long investigation into the County Attorney’s office.

The report pointed to a “disturbing pattern” of wrongdoing in the prosecutor’s office’s handling of such cases. One woman was told that “boys will be boys,” while another was talked out of prosecuting her attacker with the statement, “all you want is revenge.”

The office County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg has been under investigation for two years, according to the Missoulian. He just filed his own lawsuit to ask a federal judge to review the DOJ’s probe into a county prosecutor’s office—an as yet unprecedented move.

The Justice Department report, authored by acting assistant attorney general for the DOJ Civil Rights Division Jocelyn Samuels, said that the Missoula County Attorney’s Office’s practices “strongly suggest” discrimination against women. Samuels wrote that sexual assault complaints are given low priority and that victims are often treated disrespectfully by untrained deputies, to the point that they are “revictimized by the process.”

A woman whose 5-year-old daughter was assaulted by a teenage boy questioned why her daughter’s abuser had only received two years of community service. The prosecutor’s response?

“Boys will be boys.”

Another had religious passages quoted in her face, while another called her experience with the attorneys “traumatic.”

For his part, Van Valkenburg expressed his outrage at the DOJ, which he accused of trying to “manipulate the news” by releasing the report.

“First and foremost, I think that this is one of the most unfair, unethical things that I have witnessed in 35 years of public life,” Van Valkenburg said. “For the DOJ to dump this report on the news media at virtually 5 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, three days after we have filed a complaint for judicial relief, is totally irresponsible.

The County Attorney said at a press conference that he wasn’t going to allow the DOJ to enter his territory without a fight.

"It's a very significant legal precedent that the DOJ is trying to impose on Missoula County," Van Valkenburg said.

"We think we have a precedent stand against interference on operation into our office, and I want to get that resolved by a federal judge as soon as possible," he added.

Sources: Missoulian, Fox Montana