Missoula County Coverage

Feb 14, 2014 10:46 AM by Dennis Bragg - KPAX News

DOJ claims "substantial evidence" gender bias in Missoula Co. Attorney's Office

MISSOULA - The U.S. Department of Justice is now saying it has "substantial evidence of gender bias" in the Missoula County Attorney's Office.

It's the first time the feds have offered any specifics of their findings from an investigation that's taken more than 18 months, and comes just days after Missoula County filed a federal lawsuit challenging DOJ's legal authority.

The surprise statement came down late Friday afternoon as the DOJ finally offered some proof of its lengthy investigation.

The questions leveled by U.S. District Attorney for Montana Michael Cotter were initially directed at the University of Montana, Missoula Police and the Missoula County Attorney's Office following complaints of sexual assaults both off, and on campus two years ago.

But while both UM and Missoula PD accepted settlements with Cotter, County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg has continued to question DOJ's jurisdiction over operations in a local prosecutors' office.

He told county commissioners last month that the DOJ had also offered no proof of gender bias, with the county deciding to reject a proposed settlement. And earlier this week, Van Valkenburg filed a federal suit to press the jurisdiction question.

The feds have yet to respond to the suit, but Friday's DOJ statement laid out its basic findings.

Investigators claim the County Attorney still gives sexual assaults of women a "low priority", doesn't train deputy county attorneys to "effectively and impartially" deal with sex assault cases and doesn't "develop evidence" either on its own or with law enforcement.

Perhaps most critically, DOJ is charging Van Valkenburg's office treats victims with "disrespect".

Cotter is still hoping the county will work with DOJ to correct the problems. Van Valkenburg is out of town and wasn't available to give an immediate response to the DOJ's claims.

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