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Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name DOJ Investigation of Missoula County Attorney’s Office CJ-MT-0003
Docket / Court 9:14-cv-00038-DLC ( D. Mont. )
State/Territory Montana
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Attorney Organization U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division
Case Summary
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 ... read more >
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. The case was dismissed with prejudice on June 11, 2014.

On May 11, 2015, the DOJ issued a press release that announced that the Missoula Police Department had fully implemented its agreement to improve its response to reports of sexual assault. The release stated that the agreement between MCAO and DOJ in 2014 had been implemented and had improved MCAO's response to sexual assaults.

The Settlement is now complete.

Heather Turner - 05/04/2014
Maurice Youkanna - 06/10/2014
- 10/18/2017

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Affected Gender
Constitutional Clause
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Develop anti-discrimination policy
Implement complaint/dispute resolution process
Provide antidiscrimination training
Sex discrimination
Access to lawyers or judicial system
Disparate Impact
Disparate Treatment
Failure to train
Inadequate citizen complaint investigations and procedures
Pattern or Practice
Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)
Timeliness of case assignment
Plaintiff Type
U.S. Dept of Justice plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 14141
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) Missoula County Attorney's Office
Plaintiff Description The DOJ, investigating allegations of a systematic failure to protect women victims of sexual assault in Missoula. In a related case, the District Attorney of Missoula.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Private Settlement Agreement
Order Duration 2014 - 2016
Case Closing Year 2016
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing ED-MT-0001 : University of Montana-Missoula (No Court)
PN-MT-0001 : DOJ Investigation of University of Montana-Missoula's Office of Public Safety (No Court)
PN-MT-0002 : DOJ Investigation of Missoula Police Department (No Court)
Additional Resources
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  Data examining the Department of Justice's civil rights investigations of local and state police departments
Marshall Project
Date: Jan. 17, 2017
By: Tom Meagher (Marshall Project)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  What Happens When Police Are Forced to Reform?
Date: Nov. 13, 2015
By: Kimbriell Kelly, Sarah Childress and Steven Rich (Frontline/Post)
Citation: Washington Post (Nov. 13, 2015)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town
Date: Apr. 21, 2015
By: Jon Krakauer
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Federal Enforcement of Police Reform
Date: 2014
By: Stephen Rushin (University of Illinois College of Law, University of California, Berkeley - Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program Faculty)
Citation: 82 Fordham Law Review 3189 (2014)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

9:14-cv-00038-DLC (D. Mont.)
CJ-MT-0003-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/11/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Settlement Agreement
CJ-MT-0003-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/13/2013
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section
Complaint for Declaratory Judgment [ECF# 1]
CJ-MT-0003-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/11/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Re: The United States' Investigation of the Missoula County Attorney's Office
CJ-MT-0003-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/14/2014
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section
Department of Justice Reaches Landmark Agreement to Improve Missoula County Attorney’s Office’s Response to Reports of Sexual Assault
CJ-MT-0003-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/10/2014
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section
DOJ Press Release: Justice Department Announces Missoula Police Department Has Fully Implemented Agreement to Improve Response to Reports of Sexual Assault
CJ-MT-0003-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/11/2015
Plaintiff's Lawyers Cotter, Michael W. (Montana)
CJ-MT-0003-0001 | CJ-MT-0003-9000
Jones, Natasha Prinzing (Montana)
CJ-MT-0003-0002 | CJ-MT-0003-9000
Leonard, Thomas J (Montana)
CJ-MT-0003-0002 | CJ-MT-0003-9000
Samuels, Jocelyn (District of Columbia)
Tanner, Randy J (Montana)
CJ-MT-0003-0002 | CJ-MT-0003-9000
Valkenburg, Fred Van (Montana)
Defendant's Lawyers Francis, Victoria L (Montana)

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