The Department of Justice (DOJ) sent a letter on Friday to the Missoula County Attorney’s Office in Montana detailing a “disturbing pattern of deficiencies” in how rape cases are handled.
According to the DOJ, county attorneys routinely behaved inappropriately when dealing with the victims of sexual assault. One deputy county attorney allegedly quoted religious passages to a woman, which made her feel like she was being judged.
The mother of a 5-year-old girl who had been raped by an adolescent boy claimed that county attorneys told her that the her daughter’s assailant only received two years of community service because “boys will be boys.”
Another woman said that her experience dealing with county attorneys convinced her that she “would never suggest that another woman pursue a sexual assault prosecution in Missoula.”
The DOJ also claimed that the county “almost never solicits the involvement of the crime victim advocate office with its complaining witnesses in cases of sexual assault.”
County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg described the allegations as “unbelievable.”
“These are things I have never even heard of,” he said. “It is impossible to believe these things are true. This is not how the Missoula County Attorney’s Office conducts itself. These are half-truths, mistruths and maybe even outright lies.”
The DOJ’s report found Van Valkenburg’s statement that his office investigates sexual assaults “in its spare time” particularly galling. “While you have subsequently attempted to explain that by ‘spare time’ you were referring to the ‘additional time’ after other courtroom and litigation functions have been completed,” the report asserted, “the statement seems inconsistent with the diligent investigation and prosecution of sexual abuse.”
Van Valkenburg insisted that the DOJ is just “playing politics,” noting that his office filed a motion on Wednesday asking a U.S. District Court judge to decide whether the DOJ even has jurisdiction over his office. “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. Nothing in this report in any way responds to the legal arguments that we have made, in terms of their lack of jurisdiction.”
“They are trying to manipulate the news in a very, very unfair fashion,” he concluded.
Watch an ABC Fox Montana report on the case below.
Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
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