Missoula County Attorney’s Office in Full Compliance with 2014 Agreement on Sexual Assault Prosecutions

Missoula County Attorney’s Office in Full Compliance with 2014 Agreement on Sexual Assault Prosecutions

Today, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox announced that the Missoula County Attorney’s Office has fully complied with the provisions of the 2014 agreement aimed at improving the office’s handling of sexual assault cases. The agreement was signed after Attorney General Fox intervened in and settled the legal dispute between the Missoula County Attorney’s Office and U.S. Department of Justice.

“Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst and her team are to be commended for their diligent work,” Fox said. “In the time since this agreement was signed, the Missoula County Attorney’s Office has worked very hard alongside our prosecutors and a special technical advisor to evaluate and improve all aspects of how sexual assault cases are handled and how victims are treated. Members of the Missoula community should be proud of their county attorney team for the great work that’s been done.”

Kirsten Pabst said, “I am extremely proud of our Special Victims Unit program which we’ve built from the ground up to enhance community safety and utilize best-practices to better serve victims of crime. With the support of our local administration, we’ve overcome institutional barriers to unveil a truly innovative and comprehensive program that is the first of its kind.”

Since the agreement, the Missoula County Attorney’s Office has:

Developed clear policies and guidelines for prosecuting sexual assault cases. Using materials and best practices from around the country, comprehensive and condensed guides were created for use in Missoula and throughout the state.

Participated in special training for sexual assault investigation, prosecution, and victim treatment. County Attorney Pabst and others in the office participated in special training opportunities locally and nationally, including training from the Montana Attorney General’s Office.

Hired a victim-witness coordinator, investigator and trauma counselor to assist with sexual assault cases and address the effects of secondary trauma on staff.

Formed a Special Victims Unit. The Missoula County Attorney’s Office has dedicated five attorneys and a paralegal to specializing exclusively in special victims cases.

Improved communication and coordination with law enforcement agencies and community partners. The Missoula County Attorney’s Office collaborates with community partners on local multi-disciplinary teams and has taken the lead in coordinating with law enforcement and other agencies in sexual assault investigations and prosecution.

Engaged in community outreach. County Attorney Pabst and her staff often engage in public speaking aimed at education and prevention of sexual crimes.  Additionally, prosecutors have teamed-up with the Attorney General’s Office and others to help other communities address the unique challenges of sexual assault on campuses and advocate for legislative reform.

“I want to thank Assistant Attorneys General Brant Light and Ole Olson from my staff as well as Anne Munch, a private attorney who served as a special technical advisor throughout this process,” Fox said. “They have invested a tremendous amount of time and energy into an endeavor that has furthered the cause of justice in Missoula and throughout Montana. The Missoula County Commissioners are also to be commended for ensuring funds were available to hire new staff and a contract technical advisor pursuant to this agreement.”

In her June 27 letter to Fox concluding the process, Munch said she has “found that MCAO [Missoula County Attorney’s Office] has a cadre of very talented trial attorneys who have dedicated themselves to sexual assault cases,” and that “the responses that victims receive has dramatically improved.”

Settling the Missoula County dispute is only part of Attorney General Fox’s efforts to improve responses to and prevent sexual assault crimes in Montana. Fox’s administration has:

  • Formed a special task force to examine sexual assault evidence kits that local law enforcement agencies haven’t submitted for testing;
  • Created a sexual assault prosecution unit within the Attorney General’s Office;
  • Increased sexual assault prosecution training opportunities for Montana’s county attorneys;
  • Worked with Sen. Diane Sands (D-Missoula) to launch a comprehensive legislative review of Montana’s sexual assault laws;
  • Initiated regional compliance check operations to locate sex offenders who aren’t in compliance with Montana’s sex offender registration laws;
  • Significantly reduced the number of undesignated registered sex offenders;
  • Improved the user-friendliness and accessibility of the Sexual or Violent Offender Registry (SVOR) website.

“Through these initiatives, including the successful conclusion of the Missoula agreement, we have made great strides, but our work on sexual assault is not over,” Fox added. “Throughout Montana we must continue to be vigilant in our efforts to prevent sex crimes, bring perpetrators of sex assault to justice, and ensure victims are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

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