Sexual assault investigations
National media turned its focus to Missoula in February to cover the trial of Jordan Johnson, the University of Montana’s star quarterback accused of raping a fellow student. The New York Times, ESPN, Wall Street Journal and others followed the proceedings inside a makeshift courtroom setup at the Holiday Inn downtown to accommodate the crowds. At the end of the 12-day trial, which included detailed testimony from the alleged victim about the night in question, the jury found Johnson not guilty. Days later, he rejoined the football team and helped lead the Griz to a 10-3 record and the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Johnson emerged as the face of an issue that plagued the university for the better part of two years, but appears to have finally come to a close. At a May 9 press conference, representatives from the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney’s Office revealed findings from a yearlong investigation into UM’s handling of sexual assaults. With UM President Royce Engstrom in attendance, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin announced that the DOJ and the Department of Education found that the university had a “significant problem” in the way it handled sexual assault complaints. One week later, the DOJ described additional problems at the Missoula Police Department, specifically noting “deficiencies” that compromised the “effectiveness of sexual assault investigations from the outset.”
- Cathrine L. Walters
- UM President Royce Engstrom speaks at a May 9 press conference announcing the conclusion of the Department of Justice’s investigation into the university’s handling of sexual assault complaints. The DOJ concluded that there was a “significant problem” with UM’s procedures and training.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 ensures men and women the equal right to education. Public institutions that harbor a climate of sexual violence against women, therefore, are in violation of the law. In exchange for being absolved of legal liability, UM and the police department agreed to sweeping changes in the way they investigate sex crimes, including additional training for police and UM security on how to investigate sexual assault.
While UM and the police department pledged full cooperation with the federal government, the county attorney’s office has steadfastly refused. It remains to be seen if the DOJ will file a lawsuit seeking to compel the attorney’s office to cooperate.
Slap on the wrist
Sexual assaults at UM weren’t the only issue that attracted the attention of national investigators. In July, the National Collegiate Athletic Association released findings from an 18-month investigation into that university’s athletic department. The report detailed extra benefits provided to members of the football team and found that the administration and former head football coach failed to properly monitor the program. For all of its work on the case, the NCAA hit UM with relatively minor penalties: a three-year probation period, scholarship reductions, a vacation of wins and a reduction in the number of undergraduate student assistant positions.
Many of the rule violations cited in the NCAA report stemmed from the fallout of an October 2011 house party during which Missoula police officers used a stun gun on and arrested UM football players Trumaine Johnson and Gerald Kemp. Details of the house party were limited both at the time of the arrests and in the NCAA’s report, but those involved spoke with the Independent in August to tell their side of the story.
“I didn’t touch the cop,” Kemp said.
Kemp and his grandfather, George Kemp, who was on the phone with his grandson when he was hit with the stun gun, accused police officers of using unnecessary force and potentially singling out black football players at the party. “What they did was an act of racism,” George Kemp said, “because they used (force) against the black kids, and they didn’t do anything of that type to any of the white kids.”
The Kemps have threatened to file a civil suit against the Missoula Police Department. George Kemp told the Independent this month that the family still intends to pursue the case. “We know who the culprits are,” he said.