My name is Michael Cotter, the United States Attorney for the District of Montana.
Both because of my position as the head of the Department of Justice’s offices in Montana, and because of my deep personal and professional ties here, I am acutely aware of the spotlight that has been focused on the issue of sexual assault in Missoula over the past several years. I am also very aware of the sincere and tireless efforts that so many of your community leaders and advocates here in Missoula have made, and are continuing to make, to ensure criminal justice and improve public safety for women victims of sexual assault.
Mayor John Engen and University of Montana President Royce Engstrom have stood out as leaders in these efforts, not only in Missoula, but in the nation. It is with deep gratitude and appreciation that today I welcome Missoula County as a full partner in these efforts. Together, we will better protect women who have been victims of sexual assault, ensure a system that is more fair to the accused and the victims alike, and serve as a model for the entire country about how law enforcement can respond more effectively to reports of sexual assault.
When the Department of Justice opened its investigation in Missoula, back on May 1, 2012, we saw a need to investigate the broad spectrum of the law enforcement response to reports of sexual assault. That meant looking at the entire life cycle of a report of sexual assault through the criminal justice system – from the reporting of allegations of sexual assault, to the investigation of alleged sexual assault to the ultimate prosecution of sexual assault crimes. For that reason, the Department of Justice investigation focused on the Missoula Police Department, the University of Montana’s Office of Public Safety, and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, the three key players in the Missoula law enforcement response to sexual assault. For that reason, we, the U.S. Department of Justice, could not walk away when we had agreements from two of those three players. We knew that to really begin to fix the problem we found in Missoula, we had to address the whole problem, including the Missoula County Attorney’s Office.
This is why today’s announcement is so important. Today we are announcing an agreement to address the gaps in the response of the third, and absolutely fundamental, element of the law enforcement response in Missoula – the prosecution of crimes of sexual assault. The Department of Justice, the County of Missoula, and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, in partnership with the Montana Attorney General, have reached agreements to ensure that the County Attorney’s Office will act promptly, adequately, and fairly to seek criminal justice for victims of sexual assault, and to ensure that if any gaps exist in the Office’s procedures or processes for prosecuting sexual assault, that those gaps will be closed and that justice will be sought in all cases.
These agreements embody a sound plan and a solid program which will improve safety of women, enhance the capacity of the County Attorney’s Office to efficiently and effectively prosecute sexual assault crimes, and increase the community’s confidence in the County Attorney’s Office response to sexual assault. Particularly when changes are integrated with the reforms underway with the County Attorney’s Office’s law enforcement and University partners in Missoula, these agreements will help to make all Missoula citizens, men and women, safer.
I extend my gratitude and recognition to Attorney General Fox, the Missoula County Commissioners, and County Attorney Van Valkenburg, for their willingness to join their law enforcement and University partners and to take proactive and necessary steps to ensure the safety of victims of sexual assault in Missoula. I recognize that it has been a difficult road for these leaders and advocates to walk. The media attention and public outcry has been loud and often unflattering. But today, we can be proud that Missoula is far ahead of much of the country in addressing these very real problems, and with the agreements we are announcing today, Missoula has taken another great stride forward. I believe Missoula is a safer and more just community as a result of the efforts that have been undertaken already, and will begin to be even more safe—and more of a model to the rest of the country—with the agreements announced today.