U.S. Justice officials accuse Montana
prosecutor of gender bias in rape cases
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[February 15, 2014]
By Laura Zuckerman
(Reuters) — The U.S. Justice Department
said on Friday that its investigation into the handling of rape reports
by prosecutors in Missoula, Montana, has found substantial evidence that
the county attorney's office discriminates against women.
The 20-page letter caps a nearly two-year inquiry into how the
Missoula County Attorney's Office deals with sexual assault. It was
made public days after County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg sued the
U.S. Justice Department, accusing its attorneys of overstepping
their bounds by trying to oversee local prosecutors.
Among the investigation's findings were that the county attorney's
office gave sexual assault of women low priority, failed to properly
train its prosecutors and treated victims with disrespect.
In its letter to Van Valkenburg, the Justice Department accused the
local prosecutor of failing to cooperate with the probe, including a
refusal to provide requested records or access to staff for
Valkenburg could not be reached for comment after business hours on
The Justice Department did not announce any actions it was taking in
response to the findings but said it hoped the letter would serve as
a starting point for talks with the county attorney's office that
would avoid protracted litigation.
The Justice Department reached separate agreements last May with the
Missoula Police Department and the University of Montana on ways to
reform how those two institutions respond to complaints of sex
The federal investigation stemmed from allegations that the
Missoula-based university and local law enforcement had failed to
aggressively pursue sexual assault and harassment reports, several
of which involved University of Montana football players.
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In 2012 the Justice Department announced that it would examine
responses by local officials to 80 reported rapes over a three-year
period. The U.S. Department of Education, meanwhile, said it would
probe whether the university had responded appropriately to at least
11 reported sexual assaults since 2010.
Valkenburg on Tuesday filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in
Montana against the Justice Department, U.S. Attorney General Eric
Holder and others alleging they did not have the authority to
investigate or sue him or his office, court records show.
"Those allegations are false, unfounded, and the defendants have
exceeded their statutory and constitutional authority," according to
(Additional reporting by Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los
Angeles; writing by Steve Gorman; editing by Lisa Shumaker)
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