Sexual assaults

UM sexual assault investigation comes to a close

2013-05-10T06:15:00Z 2014-10-03T14:28:36Z UM sexual assault investigation comes to a close

Department of Justice attorneys sang the University of Montana’s praises Thursday for its efforts to address problems surrounding sexual assault, even as DOJ documents painted a damning picture of how assault cases involving UM students all too often were handled.

Women at UM who reported being sexually assaulted or harassed “were unfairly belittled, disbelieved or blamed for speaking up about what had been done to them,” Roy L. Austin Jr., deputy assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said Thursday.

Results of the yearlong DOJ investigation into how UM handles reports of sexual assaults included among other things:

• That six UM football players – including three who allegedly attacked a single woman – have been accused of involvement in sexual assaults in a three-year period.

• That UM waited a week in early 2012 to tell city police about two students who reported being sexually assaulted on the same night by the same man – and the man fled the country before police were notified.

• And that UM campus police policies on sexual assault were, until recently, “nonexistent.”

Austin came to Missoula on Thursday for a joint news conference with Montana U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter and UM President Royce Engstrom, announcing the Justice Department’s agreements with UM that stemmed from the investigation.

Cotter described the agreements on new UM policies and procedures surrounding reports of sexual assault and harassment as “the gold standard” for colleges and universities around the country as they deal, inevitably, with reports of their own.

And he praised Engstrom for “bold and difficult decisions” in dealing with a “historical problem” on campus that preceded Engstrom’s tenure as president.

The Justice Department also is investigating how the Missoula Police Department and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office handled reports of sexual assault.

Results of the Missoula Police Department investigation should be announced soon, Austin said; however, Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg said when the investigations were announced a year ago that he wouldn’t cooperate.

“We’ve had numerous conversations with the county attorney and have not found a place for cooperation there,” Austin said. “ … We have the authority to bring litigation” if issues cannot be resolved, he said.

An NCAA investigation into unspecified allegations about UM’s football program continues, Engstrom said. Such investigations typically take 18 months, he said. The NCAA began its investigation in January 2012.


Problems with sexual assault involving UM students began to come to light in mid-December 2011. In response to a newspaper request, the university reported then it had hired an outside investigator to look into allegations that two female students had been gang-raped, possibly after being drugged, by several male students.

The investigation by retired Montana Supreme Court Justice Diane Barz grew to include nine alleged sexual assaults against women at UM between September 2010 and December 2011.

The fact that UM wasn’t aware of all nine incidents mentioned in the Barz report suggested “a lack of communication between the different responders to sexual assault in Missoula,” said the DOJ.

The remark was in one of two letters released Thursday from the DOJ to UM – one to Engstrom and UM legal counsel Lucy France, the other solely to Engstrom. Among other things, those letters outlined some of the issues that led to the federal investigation, and also what the investigation found.

For instance, the university did not institute Student Conduct Code procedures against the three football players accused of assaulting a woman until nearly a year after the coach knew the alleged victim had filed a report with the Missoula Police Department, according to one of the letters.

“The student assumed that she did not need to file an additional complaint with the university because the police had notified a university employee,” the letter said.

In an apparent reference to the same case, the DOJ wrote that the university employee did not tell UM’s Title IX coordinator or the dean of students, nor did UM investigate the case through the Student Conduct Code process until about a year later, “when those involved in the Title 9 grievance process learned of the incident through the media.”

The information did not identify the coach. Three months later, Engstrom fired athletic director Jim O’Day and football coach Robin Pflugrad.

The firings took place days after Pflugrad lauded the “character and tremendous moral fiber” of Grizzlies quarterback Jordan Johnson, who had been accused of rape. Johnson later was formally charged with sexual intercourse without consent, and was acquitted March 1 after a three-week trial.

Former Grizzlies running back Beau Donaldson was sentenced in January to 30 years in prison with 20 suspended after he pleaded guilty to raping a childhood friend in 2010. He recently applied for a sentence reduction.


Six football players were accused of being involved in sexual assaults between 2009 and 2012, according to one of the letters.

Women also told DOJ investigators they faced retaliation when they reported sexual assaults. According to the DOJ: One woman told the dean of students that a friend of her alleged attacker yelled at her that she’d “better not file charges.” Another said that after she was sexually assaulted, she found anonymous notes on her door saying “Watch your back.” A third said that the students she’d accused of attacking her began loitering in her dorm, and threw things at her sister. Both women left the university.

The DOJ was particularly critical of campus police, saying the UM Office of Public Safety “does not adequately respond to reports of sexual assault, and that its policies and training related to sexual assault response are insufficient and, until recently, nonexistent.”

Among the findings listed in the letter:

• Campus police officers appeared unaware of all the resources available to victims of sexual assault, failing “to consistently offer women information about these resources.”

• Campus officers were unclear about the difference between misdemeanor or felony sexual assault.

• Campus officers’ response to reported sexual assaults “potentially undermines” efforts to determine if a crime occurred and whether prosecution is viable. The letter cited one instance in which an officer wrote that a woman who’d reported a sexual assault didn’t appear upset, and described her “alcohol-scented breath” and “clean and undamaged clothing” – even though she’d given the officer clothing as evidence.

• “Our investigation indicated it is OPS practice to routinely ask women whether they wish to pursue charges and advise them that, if they do so, they will have to face the suspect in court. … Such questioning can act as a powerful means of dissuading women from working together with law enforcement,” the DOJ wrote.

• One officer’s summary about a reported sexual assault “indicated an unwarranted skepticism about the woman’s credibility.” And two campus safety officers who responded to a report of a sexual assault in a dorm “used the term ‘regretted sex’ while speaking in a volume that could be heard by others in the vicinity.”

DOJ investigators spent 10 days in Missoula during the last year interviewing law enforcement officers, advocates, women, witnesses and others in the community, the letter said. They spoke with more than 30 women – or their representatives – who’d reported being assaulted at the university, it said.

Reach the Missoulian newsroom at @missoulian, at or at (406) 523-5240

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(30) Comments

  1. George Hilman
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    George Hilman - May 13, 2013 10:44 pm
    What about all the other rape reports, before and after the single rape report that you are talking about? We just let those be the same lousy as before?
  2. EcoRover
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    EcoRover - May 13, 2013 8:45 am
    President Engstrom inherited this mess, he didn't create it. But UM programs and enrollment will suffer because of the many incompetent staff from the previous administration. It seems the staff closed ranks to protect UM management and hide serious problems. That worked real well, in the long run. New policies/procedures and new staff are clearly needed. DOJ and NCAA will require new policies/procedures. But has Engstrom replaced the incompetent staff that caused this mess?
  3. Go'Cats
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    Go'Cats - May 10, 2013 6:21 pm
    Now THAT'S sad, MT Mama. You obviously place the student enrollment of UM above the safety of young women. You must be "so proud". Shame on you.
  4. JMontana
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    JMontana - May 10, 2013 8:54 am
    Sure, I'll provide an English translation. There has been 1 sexual assualt in the history of Montana football and that player was immediately removed from the team and now on his way to prison where he should be. Due to the availability of facts, all other speculation has been through the system and put to rest, where it belongs. In related news, there has been one Missoulian writer that been accused by hundreds and hundreds throughout the state of Montana of hack, cherry-picking, agenda-based reporting. That seems to be the only "culture" of behavior here.
  5. MT_Mama
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    MT_Mama - May 10, 2013 8:31 am
    It's hit the national media, as expected:

    Great PR for UM . There goes the enrollment. Engstrom must be so proud.
  6. DoItRight
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    DoItRight - May 10, 2013 8:30 am
    Memory refresher for Kuato:
    The Saudi's that left after 9/11 were with the express consent of the president:
    That would be your guy - Boy George
  7. wowreally
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    wowreally - May 10, 2013 12:06 am
    The UM Police dept. only has the authority to deal with misdemeanors, If its a felony, they will refer you to the city police who have "specialist" to deal with sexual assult...
  8. mtmike
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    mtmike - May 09, 2013 11:37 pm
    Bjorn, this incident was investigated twice and the conclusion was that the activities were consensual with video evidence. Thererfore no crime, Johnson was exonerated at a trial that that only happened bacause of DOJ strongarm tactics. The FB player who was guilty is on his way to prison, as it should be. So you are FOS, accusations don't equal guilt, despite your ignorance of the law.
  9. JMontana
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    JMontana - May 09, 2013 9:54 pm
    The obvious lack of training has absolutely nothing to do with the stadium lighting. That was done with private funds. An administration figure dropped the ball again and have unqualified people running around campus responding to very, very serious allegations. Yes, there needs to be more training, perhaps Engstrom should have spent the 500K (and counting) that it costed the University to wrongfully fire two employees, and better prepared his campus patrol?
  10. UMalumnus
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    UMalumnus - May 09, 2013 7:09 pm
    Yes. People donated money for the lights. No taxpayer money was spent. People donated money FOR THAT PURPOSE. If there was a push for what you suggested, then I am sure people would donate. And there is plenty of lighting on campus.
  11. Kuato
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    Kuato - May 09, 2013 7:06 pm
    Duh, their letting them get away with things that citizens don't get. like on 9/11 when they let the Saudi's fly out of the country ! Ah oh , jacksommersby 88 is a "confederate shill" for sure. Wasn't their a movie???
  12. Kuato
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    Kuato - May 09, 2013 6:59 pm
    Gee, your just like the little devil who sits on someones shoulder and whispers in their ear. " Pay no attention to the corruption and government waste that goes on all around us"
  13. Kuato
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    Kuato - May 09, 2013 6:55 pm
    Yes by all means let the feds do a fedaeral investigation of sexual assaults on the UM campus ,and lets all pay no attention to the acts of high treason that went on in Benghazi.
  14. TrueAmerican
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    TrueAmerican - May 09, 2013 6:41 pm
    it is no joke that the MPD routinely and historically have practiced gender discrimination.
  15. TrueAmerican
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    TrueAmerican - May 09, 2013 6:39 pm
    the article did mention that a man fled the country after being accused by two different women, it did not, however, mention the nationality of the accused.
  16. Bjorn
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    Bjorn - May 09, 2013 6:22 pm
    Who would contact the campus police? I don't know... Maybe people who think that's why the UM has a campus police department? But hey, blame the people who believed the false advertising, rather than the false advertisers... I for one am glad to see the worthless campus cops finally get their just reward for being so incompetent. Way to go guys!
  17. Bjorn
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    Bjorn - May 09, 2013 6:17 pm
    That paragraph where it talks about the two women attacked by the same guy.... The guy who then fled the country.... Yeah... That's the infamous case of the Saudi.

    Apparently reading comprehension is not a thing for Missoula anymore.
  18. Bjorn
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    Bjorn - May 09, 2013 6:14 pm
    6 griz footballers have been accused over the last three years. 3 of those 6 allegedly attacked 1 woman. This is the result of a 1 year long investigation from the department of justice. The investigation was focused on how the um handles reports of sexual assault.

    There. Not too hard if you know how to read English.
  19. Pistol
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    Pistol - May 09, 2013 5:39 pm
    This is above my pay scale. Someone explain to me how in ten days, and speaking to 30 people the DOJ found out what? That campus police aren't trained well enough to handle sexual assault? What is status of the UM students who sexually assaulted girls over a period of time? O'Day and Pflugrad were fired for losing control of players in the players free time. What about administration losing control of the campus police while they are working?
  20. MMIN
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    MMIN - May 09, 2013 4:54 pm
    It's pretty clear the Missoulian wants to tie as much of this as possible back to the football team. Even so, you probably don't have to repeat your opening paragraph.

    Is there an editor in the house....ever?
  21. Bbr
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    Bbr - May 09, 2013 3:54 pm
    Gwen's opening statement:

    "Six University of Montana football players, including three who allegedly attacked a single woman, have been accused over the three years of involvement in sexual assaults, according to a yearlong U.S. Department of Justice investigation into how UM handled sexual assaults."

    While later Gwen acknowledges the reason DOJ came to Um was the Saudi incident, not football players, can we review more about the "6" football players?

    1, Donaldson, was found guilty in court.
    1, Johnson, was found not guilty in court
    3 football players incident was reviewed by the honor court, where witness testimony and video evidence was presented of the night, people and acts in question. The result of the honor court proceeding was 7-0 in favor of the football players.
    No idea who the 7th incident was, or result of investigation.

    Gwen knows that at least 4 (and possibly 5) of the 6 accused are found to not have committed the offense when their case was presented. Why not include this in the same paragraph?
  22. jacksommersby88
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    jacksommersby88 - May 09, 2013 3:11 pm
    Uh, it's not surprising at all that college students who live on campus contract campus police first, for they probably assume that campus police will in turn contact the city police. Why belittle them for that? So if this investigation results in a single rape report being better hanlded, it was more than worth it.
  23. Business is Business
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    Business is Business - May 09, 2013 3:07 pm
    "Six University of Montana football players, including three who allegedly attacked a single woman, have been accused over the three years of involvement in sexual assaults, according to a yearlong U.S. Department of Justice investigation into how UM handled sexual assaults."

    Does the Missoulian employ a translator who can explain this lead for English speakers?
  24. jacksommersby88
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    jacksommersby88 - May 09, 2013 3:06 pm
    And how exactly was it the fault of "the feds" that the accused Saudi rapist fled the country, exactly?
  25. msonelson
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    msonelson - May 09, 2013 2:31 pm
    I see no mention of the Saudi who fled the country. No surprise there I suppose, particularly from the feds....
  26. kim1954
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    kim1954 - May 09, 2013 2:17 pm
    How about spending more money on training CPO's to responding accurately, hiring more CPO's to patrol and more safety lighting on campus. Oh that's right, we just spent 1 million for stadium lighting.
    Nov. 5, 2011
    (Montana has discussed the addition of stadium lights for years, but the project has now become UM's No. 1 fundraising priority, athletic director Jim O'Day said Friday.)
  27. JMontana
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    JMontana - May 09, 2013 2:00 pm
    Soooooo, after this year+ investigation, we have determined that the campus police need to take a weekend training course??? Hmm, sounds like a fine use of tax$. Rape, alleged of any kind, should not be taken lightly, but this entire investigation appears to turn up that campus police didn't do a very good job, which is common with approximately 50% of traffic stops, this isn't a "culture" or sytem of negligent behavior... what a waste of coverage and resources. It did give Gwen one more chance to use the term "gang rape" though, regarding allegedly one of the most heinous crimes ever committed in Missoula that somehow never brought charges? This whole thing has been rediculous, I've seen enough. The NCAA should wrap up their investigation, admit they found nothing, Engstrom should be fired for his gross negligence, and we should move forward...
  28. montanamuralist
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    montanamuralist - May 09, 2013 1:50 pm
    This is a joke. Forced in to prosecuting Johnson on an assault charge, a jury basically cleared him in an hour after weeks of testimony. The idea that Missoula County does not prosecute sexual assault cases is ridiculous. You have to present evidence to go to trial. Just because a woman SAYS she was assaulted does not mean she was. If that is belittling her I am sorry. You have to have EVIDENCE!!!!! Who would contact the idiot campus police in a sexual assault case? No one in their right mind other than a first step. They give parking tickets. You contact the police and file a complaint as that is what campus police will have you do anyway. Report as soon as it happens and a better chance of prosecution. These are tough cases and this investigation was a joke from the word go. Glad they came to some conclusions and are leaving town.
  29. dave ajou
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    dave ajou - May 09, 2013 12:43 pm
    Sexual assault and violence is no joke. This "investigation" and the "solutions" are also a joke. I am reminded of a complaint our business dealt with years ago filed with the HRC. ( Human Rights Commission). There was no basis in fact, the purported violations were false and nonexistent, but the wheels of bureaucracy were set in motion. Finally, the investigator acknowledged he could find no wrongdoing whatsoever, but demanded we post a determination from the HRC that we would not violate the policy/practice in the future. We refused to post that and said we had done nothing to warrant the charge, much less post the determination. The HRC investigator essentially begged for the determination to be posted so he could close his case file. We again refused and that was the last we heard of them. Perhaps the dogs of war summoned by a certain non-confirmed regent in this case, and the Missoula PD, have had their day, and will slink out of town with a lot of congratulatory pats on the back.
  30. zootown315
    Report Abuse
    zootown315 - May 09, 2013 9:55 am
    What is the location of the press conference?
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