Missoula County in Compliance with 2014 Agreement on Sexual Assault Prosecutions
Attorney General Tim Fox and Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst announced today that the Missoula County Attorney’s Office is in compliance with the provisions of last year’s June agreement regarding sexual assault prosecutions. Fox and Pabst have also met to discuss how the offices can continue to work together on this important issue.
The agreement, signed by Attorney General Fox and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) on June 10, ended the legal dispute between the U.S. Department of Justice and the MCAO. MCAO agreed to implement several initial and ongoing measures aimed at improving the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault crimes.
“Over the last six months, we have been working closely with the Missoula County Attorney’s Office to implement this agreement,” Attorney General Fox said. “This important work has continued under Missoula’s new county attorney, Kirsten Pabst, and will continue into the future. Sexual assault crimes are among the most egregious, and they’re also among the most difficult to prosecute. I know Kirsten is committed to ensuring victims are treated appropriately and perpetrators are brought to justice, and I look forward to our partnership in the months and years ahead.”
Pabst added, “The Missoula County Attorney’s Office is committed to exceeding the goals lined out in our agreement to better the lives of victims of sexual and violent crimes. We’ve already made several significant developments and will continue working closely with Attorney General Fox to improve community safety. This is an exciting time for Missoula because we are breaking ground on great and permanent changes in the area of sexual assault prosecutions.”
- The MCAO has developed the first edition of a sexual assault policy and procedure manual with over 300 pages of best practices for prosecuting sexual assault cases in Montana.
- The MCA has appointed a new Prosecution Training Coordinator. The attorneys have participated in five different sexual assault specific trainings since May 2014. That training will continue.
- The MCAO has issued policy directives requiring the MCAO attorneys to comply with ongoing practices outlined in the June agreement.
- The MCAO has designated prosecutors for sexual assault prosecutions, for a total of 4 dedicated SVU prosecutors and a supervisor.
- The MCAO has entered into memoranda of understanding to address the handling of sexual assault cases with the Missoula County Sheriff and the Missoula Police Department (MPD), and the MCAO is conducting regular in service trainings with MPD detectives assigned to sexual assault cases under the direction of a newly appointed Law Enforcement Training Coordinator.
- The MCAO is participating in and supporting a sexual assault and accountability audit.
- An in-house victim coordinator position has been hired and has been working closely with the Crime Victim Advocate Office to better improve delivery of services to victims of crime.
- The MCAO has made a “softer” conference room designated for victim interviews to make trial preparation and defense interviews less intimidating.
- The JustWare case tracking system has been made available to victim advocates for the purpose of case management.
- The Montana Attorney General’s Office has contracted with Anne Munch as a technical advisor. She has been helping review policies and procedures and has recently provided statewide sexual assault training for Montana prosecutors.
The provisions of the agreement will have statewide implications. In addition to continuing its ongoing training for county attorneys on sexual assault prosecution, which began even before the Attorney General’s Office settled the Missoula dispute, the policies, procedures, and best practices gleaned from implementing the Missoula agreement will be available for the benefit of all county attorney offices in Montana.
Earlier this month, the Attorney General’s Office introduced House Bill 75 in the legislature. Sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Hess (R-Havre), the bill would authorize the creation of a sexual assault prosecution unit within the Attorney General’s Office. The unit will assist county attorneys in prosecuting the toughest sexual assault cases. The bill passed the full House of Representatives on January 19.
Fox has also asked the legislature for funds to be used for training local law enforcement and prosecutors on sexual assault investigations and prosecutions.
The Attorney General’s January 2015 Quarterly Report on the Missoula County sexual assault prosecution agreement can be viewed or downloaded here (27 MB pdf).