The New York Times reports on a “remarkable standoff” between Fred Van Valkenburg, the county prosecutor in Missoula, Mt., and the U.S. Justice Department. For nearly three years, there have been reports in Missoula of rapes gone unpunished and complaints officials minimized or ignored reports of sexual assaults, especially if the suspects played football for the University of Montana Grizzlies. The Justice Department said Van Valkenburg had disregarded sexual assaults to the point that it was placing “women in Missoula at increased risk of harm.” Van Valkenburg has asked a federal judge to halt the federal investigation.
He argues that the Justice Department had no legal authority to swoop in and investigate his office. Federal authorities said they were trying to fix a litany of problems in the prosecutor's office, including an “extremely low” prosecution rate for sexual assaults. The Justice Department found county prosecutors had pursued charges in 14 of the 85 sexual-assault cases that police had referred to them for prosecution. Prosecutors said it was often difficult to persuade 12 jurors if a case did not fit their preconceptions of what constitutes rape: if no brutal force was involved, or if the victim and the assailant had been friendly or intimate. They said their prosecution rate was higher than rates in areas like San Diego and Salt Lake Counties and that their conviction rate was slightly higher than estimated national averages.