1 year later, DOJ investigation of Missoula sex assault reports ongoing

2013-05-01T06:00:00Z 2014-10-03T14:28:35Z 1 year later, DOJ investigation of Missoula sex assault reports ongoing missoulian.com

One year ago today, attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice flew from Washington, D.C., to Missoula to announce an investigation into how three local justice agencies handle sexual assault reports.

At the time, Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, wouldn’t say how long the civil investigation into the Missoula Police Department, the Missoula County Attorney’s Office and the University of Montana campus police would take.

But he promised the investigation would be both transparent and “expeditious.”

A recent telephone call to the Civil Rights Division about the progress of the investigation yielded what’s become the standard email response in the past year: “The public safety investigation is ongoing.”

Beyond that, the department refuses further comment.

“I can tell you that the investigation is still open and we continue to cooperate with them in reaching an end to their investigation,” Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir said Tuesday. But, he added, “I don’t have any estimation of when it will be complete.”


The DOJ outlined the reasons for its investigation in notification letters sent at the time to UM, the Police Department and the County Attorney’s Office.

At UM, the Justice Department focused on allegations of sexual assault and harassment, and the university’s response to those allegations. The DOJ’s action at UM followed the university’s own investigation, launched in December 2011 in response to allegations of gang rape involving students.

The DOJ told the police department it would review “allegations that MPD has failed to investigate reports of sexual assaults against women because of their gender or in a manner that has a disparate impact on women.” And the agency used nearly identical wording in notifying the county attorney that it would review allegations that his office failed to investigate or prosecute sexual assaults against women.

Two other investigations target the university: Last April, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would investigate allegations of harassment against UM’s football team; last May, the NCAA revealed that it had been investigating the Grizzlies football team since the end of January 2012 for unspecified allegations. The Education Department investigation has been combined with that of the Justice Department. The NCAA investigation is unrelated.

At last year’s news conference that announced the Justice Department investigation, UM and city officials vowed to do their utmost to help DOJ investigators.

But Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg took to the microphone to let the feds know in no uncertain terms that his office wouldn’t cooperate, saying prosecutors had done nothing wrong and that such investigations undermine “the dedicated hard work prosecutors are doing across America to fight crime.”

On Tuesday, Van Valkenburg said that “I have not heard anything at all from the Department of Justice regarding their investigation and I don’t know anything about the status of it.”


DOJ investigators visited both UM and the police department last summer.

A DOJ attorney and two consultants spent two days in July at the police department and conducted one-on-one interviews with nine people, ranging from patrol officers to Muir, the chief said.

“They weren’t here to interview us about specific cases,” he said. “They wanted an overview of the process.”

Peggy Kuhr, UM’s vice president for integrated communications, said that “all along the university has been working regularly with the DOJ and the DOE, all through the legal counsel office.”

Both UM and the police department said they began working on new policies well before the DOJ announced its investigation.

“Even before they came to town, we had started looking at policy changes and looking for training that we could provide that would help perhaps minimize some of the communications issues we were having,” Muir said. “So we’ve been continuing to plug along with those efforts.”

UM and the police department joined with other law enforcement agencies and the city in February 2012 to announce a campaign encouraging sexual assault victims to call 9-1-1, even if the assault occurred on campus. In March 2012, the city police department adopted a new policy on sexual assault investigations, based on guidelines from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Muir said.

In addition, he said, “all of our detectives have now been given training in what’s called a more victim-centered approach” espoused by the Oregon Sexual Assault Task Force. That training took place last summer; this year, the department is working on training patrol officers.

The university, meanwhile, launched the Personal Empowerment Through Self Awareness online tutorial on sexual violence required for all UM students who registered for the spring semester – nearly 14,000 – and that will be required for all incoming students.

A similar workshop will be required of faculty and staff next year, Kuhr said.

The idea, said both Kuhr and Muir, is to get out ahead of whatever the DOJ might recommend. In its notification letters, the DOJ said that if it finds violations, it will recommend remedies. If an agency and the DOJ can’t agree on a remedy, “the Attorney General is authorized to bring litigation in the United States District Court.”

“We know, based on the questions they’ve asked ... that we need to step up training and need to step up education, not just with students but with all employees,” Kuhr said. “And, we need to be updating our policies on sexual misconduct and how the university responds to reports of sexual assault. That’s all been going on for the past year.”

Muir said that “I would have loved to have had this over with before it even started.” But, he added, “we were going to do things (training and policy changes) whether the Department of Justice came in or not.”

Missoulian reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, gwen.florio@missoulian.com, or @CopsAndCourts.

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(13) Comments

  1. nogoodhippietype
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    nogoodhippietype - May 02, 2013 9:50 am
    We have several sitting judges who don't believe women should be attorneys. Women's status issues in western Montana are holding steady at about 1967. These problems are endemic in the "good 'ol boy's" that run the legal system, so how can we realistically expect better from society at large. The DOJ would never take that broader issue on because they just want easy headlines that look like they are doing something progressive. That said, thanks Gwen for another meaningless story about no news at all. And of course, finding a way to work the Grizzlies into it. Priceless.
  2. JMontana
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    JMontana - May 01, 2013 2:38 pm
    I totally agree. I have been very critical of the majority of Ms. Florio's articles, but this was in fact very necessary. We are all very interested in the findings (if any) of wrong doing at the University. If in fact the ball was dropped in any sexual assault scenario, there needs to be fast and sound consequences. If there is a system or "culture" of wrong behavior, I hope it is found, and the system overhauled. That being said, if they find nothing, no wrong doing of any kind, I expect one final article explaining that essentially everything that has been written and reported over the past 1.5 yrs has been a complete sham... a failed witch hunt with an agenda. Either way, this will work it self out the way it is supposed to, I just hope Ms. Florio doesn't disregard the final findings, or lack there of, based on her own personal, very clear, opinions.
  3. Been There
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    Been There - May 01, 2013 1:00 pm
    I agree with Bobby Lee. Twenty years ago, when I was a senior at UM, there were efforts by womens' groups to work with administration to find a solution to the sexual assault problem. These attempts fell on deaf ears. We were patronized and treated like we were two year olds. I recently unsubscribed to all communications from UM as an alumnus. The only time I will admit to having attended UM is when it is absolutely necessary.
  4. DonaldM
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    DonaldM - May 01, 2013 11:05 am
    I have to support the Missoulian with this one. Followup stories are a basic journalistic practice, in particular on anniversaries, and more so in the case of high-profile stories; which applies here.

    The real story is that, after a year, nothing has happened. This whole episode was a political stunt by the Obama Admin. associated with his reelection campaign. Perez is a virulent racist, and leftist, and that is the reason he was appointed to his position. The political advantage to this situation in Missoula is over, as is their interest.

    This followup story is more than appropriate. Including a political biography of Perez would also be appropriate.
  5. OpenMind
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    OpenMind - May 01, 2013 10:32 am
    If the DOJ called itself Dateline the investigation would have been finished months ago
  6. BobbyLee
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    BobbyLee - May 01, 2013 9:05 am
    Watch out. The university is gearing itself up for a slew of grievances. Dozens are about to lose their jobs and many of those have been keeping dirty little secrets for years, and until now have been quiet lest they lose their job. But since they are now losing their jobs solely because of high up incompetence I doubt they're going to be quiet for long. There's not one person at the U who hasn't heard about some incident regarding an employee and an intern or a student worker. Those incidents have all been reported to someone, and they've all been kept quiet by someone (HR knows about all of them). And let's not forget, that the majority of those responsible for the DOJ investigation are still on the university's payroll. How does that look to a prospective parent looking to send their kid to college? Not until the administration is cleaned out will that college redeem itself and once again be the institution Missoula and Montana can be proud of. That the faculty are finally speaking up speaks volumes, since faculty are inherently lethargic and detached to anything remotely administrative or political at universities. The U has a long way to fall before it can get back up, and with the administration spending all its time covering its own backside and creating ludicrous spin to satiate a second-rate local media, nothing will ever improve, because everyone else who matters can see through the spin. The sooner the U comes clean, the sooner it can get back to concentrating on education, which is not currently seen to be a priority as enrollment has just proven. How can half a dozen highly-paid administrators ruin a university so darn quickly? Cover-up and incompetence, that's how. It'll do it every single time.
  7. walter12
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    walter12 - May 01, 2013 7:31 am
    You will never get rid of this Holder toadie until Holder himself is gone. The DOJ has been so corrupted by Holder and Obama, it could take it 20 years to recover.
  8. montanamuralist
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    montanamuralist - May 01, 2013 6:53 am
    Nothing as yet from any of these investigations. NOTHING!!!! Why? Because there is nothing to investigate. Sexual assault is very difficult to prove and whether womens groups like it or not, you can not, in our justice system, accuse someone and then find them guilty without evidence. NOTHING....NCAA....NOTHING, except hiding behind trees on the practice field offering free meals....close it and get on with life please. No one supports sexual assault...especially in Missoula and no one is immune to prosecution...with evidence.
  9. hellgatenights
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    hellgatenights - May 01, 2013 5:06 am
    Perez is progressive hack.....but he did his damage here. Johnson was made a public spectacle at the behest of Perez........and Mayor John wants five new "Courstesy cops".........also as a result of Perez. Look Mayor......we don't need the cops we have now and certainly do not want to pay for five more people to retire at 44 on full pension. It seems the mayor has a big appetite for other people's taxes.
  10. hellgatenights
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    hellgatenights - May 01, 2013 4:07 am
    One year later......and Chief Failure is still here. Muir has done nothing help the victims or prevent this ongoing disgrace. It s no secret he is the mayor's pet, but I prefer a black lab rather than a lap chief.
  11. mtmike
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    mtmike - April 30, 2013 11:49 pm
    Check into Perez a little bit, partisan political hack. This was all about the Obama campaign, the "War on Women".
  12. UMalumnus
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    UMalumnus - April 30, 2013 10:57 pm
    There is absolutely nothing new in this story. It's simply a rehash of what we already know. Leave it to the Missoulian to bring it up again just to bring it up.
  13. UMalumnus
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    UMalumnus - April 30, 2013 10:55 pm
    One year and nothing. Nada, Zip. One has to wonder if the reason we haven't heard anything (leaks are typical in cases like this) is because they haven't found anything.

    Also -- a bit on Mr. Perez. The President has nominated him to be Labor Secretary. That nomination is in trouble and will likely fail because of a report by the independent Inspector General found problems within the Civil Rights Division he led.
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