On May 1, 2012, the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice ("DOJ") and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Montana announced the opening of an investigation into the Missoula County Attorney's Office ("MCAO"), focusing on allegations that the MCAO failed to adequately investigate and prosecute alleged sexual assaults against women. (The DOJ also launched a companion investigation of the University of Montana-Missoula and its Office of Public Safety and a simultaneous investigation of the City of Missoula Police Department. These are listed as related cases, below. The DOJ reached agreements with these agencies on May 9, 2013.)
As the investigation neared a close, on February 11, 2014, Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg brought a declaratory judgment action against the United States in the U.S. District Court for the District of Missouri, arguing that the DOJ lacked the authority to investigate or sue the County Attorney's Office under 42 U.S.C. § 3789d and 42 U.S.C. § 14141. The complaint and docket sheet are included in this case record.
On February 14, 2014, the DOJ issued its findings letter describing problems in the MCAO's response to sexual assault, and concluding that there was substantial evidence that the County Attorney's response to sexual assault discriminated unconstitutionally against women. The Department's investigation - with which the MCAO did not cooperate - uncovered evidence indicating that the MCAO engaged in gender discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution as well as relevant federal laws. In particular, the investigation found evidence that the decisions of the MCAO regarding the investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults and rape, particularly non-stranger assaults and rapes, were influenced by gender bias and gender stereotyping and adversely affect women in Missoula. The investigation found that the following, taken together, strongly suggested gender discrimination: despite their prevalence in the community, sexual assaults of adult women were given low priority in the MCAO; the MCAO did not provide Deputy County Attorneys with the basic knowledge and training about sexual assault necessary to effectively and impartially investigate and prosecute these cases, nor did it generally develop evidence in support of sexual assault prosecutions, either on its own or in cooperation with other law enforcement agencies; adult women victims, particularly victims of non-stranger sexual assault and rape, were often treated with disrespect, not informed of the status of their case and revictimized by the process; and the MCAO routinely failed to engage in the most basic communication about its cases of sexual assault with law enforcement and advocacy partners.
The matter settled on June 10, 2014, with an out-of-court settlement agreement between the MCAO and the DOJ, and a separate Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the MCAO and the Montana Attorney General, assigning a substantial oversight role to the Montana AG. Under the agreement, the USDOJ agreed not to sue the MCAO and Missoula County. The MOU gave the Montana Attorney General the sole authority to supervise the MCAO in the handling of any case. It provided for hiring a "Technical Advisor" (at a maximum cost of $150,000 for a period of at least one year). The Technical Advisor would train prosecuting attorneys as well as MCAO's supervisors to meet standards set by the Montana Attorney General for the handling of sexual assault cases. Further, the MCAO agreed to develop sexual assault case policies consistent with the National District Attorneys Association policies, and to provide training to appropriate officials regarding the handling of sexual assault cases for every year that the MOU was in effect. The MOU required prosecutors to make "reasonable efforts" to meet with sexual assault complainants and to provide information regarding decisions to charge or not to charge; it also required the MCAO to coordinate with other agencies to reduce the likelihood of discrimination in the handling of sexual assault cases, and to seek funding to provide resources such as expert witnesses to promote prosecution of sexual assault cases. Additionally, the MCAO was required to provide information to the public regarding the criminal justice process.
The Montana Attorney General agreed to supervise the MCAO's policies and compliance with this MOU, including the review of sexual assault cases for which the MCAO declined prosecution for the year following this MOU. The Montana Attorney General was to consult with the USDOJ to select the Technical Advisor, to review and approve MCAO's policies and guidelines for handling sexual assault cases, and to review and approve the MCAO's sexual assault training program. The Montana Attorney General agreed to also obtain and provide after every six months, for a period of two years after the date of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), copies of policies implemented by the MCAO regarding sexual assault cases, as well as general data on sexual assault cases.
As part of the settlement, MCAO agreed to dismiss its district court lawsuit against the United States. Heather Turner - 05/04/2014
Maurice Youkanna - 06/10/2014