Missoula Co. settles with DOJ over sex assault investigation


Missoula Co. settles with DOJ over sex assault investigation

MISSOULA, Mont. - Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg signed agreements with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Montana Attorney General's Office Tuesday. The agreements outline a plan for the County Attorney's Office to improve the way it handles sexual assault cases.

The DOJ announced it investigation into the Missoula County Attorney's Office, the Missoula Police Department and the University of Montana in May 2012. MPD and UM reached agreements in May 2013. But Van Valkenburg challenged the DOJ and its authority to investigate his office.

"Why did the United States Department of Justice do what they did here? Which was totally, totally unfair," Van Valkenburg said at Tuesday's meeting. "It hurts hugely to have my staff defamed in the way that they defamed them."

But he signed agreements with the feds, with the Montana Attorney General's Office and Missoula County Commissioners, saying that his own office will implement some changes.

"My support for the agreement is primarily the result of my respect for the work Montana Attorney General Tim Fox did to bring us to the point where we are today," said Van Valkenburg.

The agreement with the DOJ outlines plans for policies and training for prosecutors and supervisors, to improve the treatment of people who report sexual assault.  The agreement calls for specific prosecution techniques, hiring an in-house victim coordinator, improving communication, and improving the tracking and sharing of data.

In a second agreement, the County Attorney's Office will work with the state Attorney General's Office. Part of that includes an agreement to hire a technical advisor to assist with training, development of written policies and improved communication, all to be overseen by Fox.

"The men and women at the Missoula County Attorney's Office have been and continue to be committed to seeking justice and protecting victims," said Van Valkenburg.

The agreements are slated to last a year. It will cost the county $210,000 to implement all of the changes.

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