80 reported rapes in 3 years in University of Montana town triggers federal investigation
Attorney General Eric Holder called Montana town's apparent failure to properly investigate dozens of rape charges 'very disturbing.'
The Department of Justice is calling claims that a Montana college and its town failed to properly investigate dozens of sexual assaults “very disturbing,” and is launching its own investigation.
The University of Montana, in Missoula, has been under fire for months over how it's handled a slate of reported sexual assaults, including an alleged gang rape by members of its champion football team, the Montana Grizzlies.
Following complaints alleging the school and local police didn't properly investigate the reported assaults, the U.S. Department of Justice said Tuesday it is launching a civil rights investigation.
The university has had more than 80 reported rapes in the last three years, and at least 11 sexual assault cases have surfaced in the last 18 months, Reuters reported.
The feds will take a close look at the Missoula police department and the county attorney's office, and monitor if the university has complied with federal sexual harassment laws, MSNBC reported.
The ongoing controversy began in late 2010 when several sexual assault allegations, including two women who said they were drugged and gang raped by members of the football team, spurred a local investigation of the school. Last month, University President Royce Engstrom fired the football team’s head coach and athletic director. One member of the team, Beau Donaldson, was charged with rape and has pleaded not guilty.
Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir said the number of sexual assaults per capita in the town is at or below average the number for similar college towns, Reuters reported. There are about 15,000 students on campus.
But Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, head of the Justice Department's civil rights division, said in a press conference Tuesday that the investigation's primary focus isn't the number of allegations, but rather the response.
Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg vehemently denied any wrongdoing and said the federal probe represents an overreach of the government that sets a dangerous precedent, Reuters reported.