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Entries in UM sex assault investigation (11)


Van Valkenburg assures commissioners on sex assault cases

(MISSOULA)- Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg says his office will "never" treat sexual assault cases as a secondary crime.

Van Valkenburg offered assurances to the county commissioners Wednesday in an intense meeting with the board, the first since the Department of Justice accused his office of "gender bias" and "disrespecting" sex assault victims. 

It's the latest dustup in the on-going fight between Van Valkenburg and the Feds over the lengthy investigation into Missoula rape cases, some involving the University of Montana. 

Commissioner Jean Curtiss said the community had "lost faith" in Van Valkenburg's office, urging him to review the DOJ's allegations. 

But Van Valkenburg countered that DOJ still hadn't given details, or legal authority to back its claims...

"We do not treat people inappropriately. We don't treat these are low priority cases. We never will," said Van Valkenburg. "There are among the worst kinds of crimes that are committed. And so, in my opinion the DOJ has been extremely unfair. They have put out a lot of bad information to the public."

The DOJ has until early April to respond to the county's federal lawsuit questioning its authority. 


UM gets update on NCAA investigation

(MISSOULA)- The University of Montana says the NCAA's investigation is on-going, with the athletic organization continuing to "review information" about UM programs.

The NCAA launched the investigation back in January. Although the organization has never said specifically what the target of the probe is, the investigation was launched at the same time the school was struggling to deal with allegations of sexual assaults on campus, some involving student athletes. 

Monday UM passed along a simple letter from the NCAA simply saying the investigation is on-going and that "review of information in this case is continuing."

“As the latest letter from the NCAA indicates, their investigation is ongoing,” said UM President Royce Engstrom. “UM personnel have been fully cooperative and collaborative with the NCAA staff during the past six months, and will continue to be so for the entire course of the investigation.”

UM says "in an effort to be as fully engaged as possible in the process, UM has contracted with the Michael L. Buckner Law Firm for representation during the NCAA investigation."


Engstrom explains changes to UM sex assault report

Engstrom says investigation report was written to protect confidential nature of the investigation(MISSOULA)- University of Montana President Royce Engstrom says references to football players and college staff were taken from an indepedent investigator's report last winter because of concerns about "confidentiality."

The key wording differences came to light after a close scrutiny of hundreds of emails that were released last week dealing with correspondence over the accusations of sexual assaults at UM, and how those cases has been handled.

When the complaints first surfaced last winter, UM enlisted the help of independent investigator Diane Bartz to look into the reports and what the school had been doing about the complaints. That report was released at the end of January.

However, a close analysis of the emails by KPAX TV reporter Dennis Bragg uncovered a distinct wording change in the section of Bartz' draft report dealing with "identified incidents", and was released to the public. Specifically, the draft report identified an "alleged rape against student by multople football players". The report said "police told the football coach" but "the coach did not tell the Director of Athletics, the Dean of Students or anyone else up the chain of command." 

The final report drops any reference to the "football team", instead using the phrase "multiple students" and changes the wording "football coach" to "university employee."

The conversation about the reasons for making those critical changes isn't illustrated in the emails because Engstrom says it happened in phone calls before the final version was released. Engstrom tells KPAX TV reporter Breanna Roy the changes were made because of the confidential nature of the on-going investigation at that point. 

"In full consultation with Ms. Barz, we discussed the importance of student confidentiality in that report," Engstrom said. "Because of the ongoing nature of the investigation at that time, and because none of those alleged perpetrators had had the opportunity for any due process at that time, it was ethically essential to remove any identifying characteristics from that report."



Feds will look at response to rape allegations in Missoula investigation

KPAX TV photo by Irina Cates(MISSOULA)- The U.S. Attorney behind a new investigation into allegations of sexual assault involving University of Montana students says the probe is a civil not criminal effort, focusing not on the number of incidents, but the local response to those cases. 

The Department of Justice announced details of the special investigation in a press conference Tuesday afternoon in Missoula. The investigation stems from complaints of sexual assault both on campus, and off campus in the past several months. Those allegations have only resulted in one criminal case against a UM football player, but have continued to rock the campus community with a series of developments since last winter. 

KPAX TV reports  DOJ will be reviewing policies at UM, the Missoula County Attorney's Office and the Missoula Police Department. Thomas Perez, the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division told reporters the goal of the investigation is to determine if a problem exists and find ways to develop "community solutions" as needed. 

The feds say they began looking into the rape reports last fall, claiming there have been 80-alleged rapes in Missoula over the past three years plus an additional 11-cases involving UM students over the past year and a half. 


Formal investigation still pending on UM harassment complaint

(MISSOULA)- The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has yet to start a formal investigation into a harassment complaint filed more than 4-months ago against the University of Montana and several of its key administrators. 

KPAX TV reported this week that the complaint had been filed in early January against recently-fired Head Football Coach Robin Pflugrad and Athletic Director Jim O'Day, the UM football team, current President Royce Engstrom and former President George Dennison. 

The unnamed person filing the complaint accuses the school of allowing a hostile workplace environment and harassment surrounding the football operations, as well as "gang rapes and cover ups."

News of the complaint is the latest development in several months of unrest on campus centered around alleged sexual assault and other crimes involving athletes.