Police – Sexual Assault Investigations Complicated When Victims – Suspects Are Transients [YouTube]
Reports of several recent sexual assaults have been under investigation by Missoula authorities, some involving homeless or transient individuals, but few arrests have been made.
Detective Sergeant Travis Welsh with the Missoula Police Department said two reports in the past week to ten days center around alleyways just off Ryman Street in downtown, Missoula.
"The latest report was received on the 22nd of July at about 4:40 in the afternoon," Welsh said. "A woman came into the station and reported that on the night of the 21st, she had been with a known male acquaintance and they had entered an alley adjacent to the 200 block of Ryman Street, and she reported that once they were there, he raped her. The investigation is ongoing, which would include interviews with the victim and with the suspect when he is located."
Welsh said two incidents of reported sexual assaults allegedly occurred on opposite sides of Ryman Street on different days. One took place in the west alley while the other took place in the east alley. The victims were not the same person and the suspects were not the same person, and to my knowledge there were not otherwise acquainted."
Welsh said investigations, especially into crimes such as sexual assault, can sometimes be complicated when both the victims and the suspects are homeless or transients, though the investigations are treated with the same amount of effort and respect as those of the regular population.
"The challenge that presents itself with the homeless population or a transient community that moves in and out of the area seasonally, is maintaining contact with them," Welsh said. "We want to make sure they have the opportunity to continue to participate in an ongoing investigation. Sometimes that is difficult when there's no permanent address, no phones and a very loose-run, word-of-mouth message system."
Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst said no arrest can be made in any crime until probable cause has been proven.
"We look at the facts and the evidence, and when we've got probable cause we make the arrest," Pabst said. "The one sexual intercourse without consent case that came over for our review from the city, they've not been able to identify a viable suspect, and so we've got that one on hold. It's under investigation and we're working with the police department to try to find the suspect."
The issue of sexual assault investigations is what brought the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division to Missoula over two years ago, bringing with it separate agreements with the Missoula Police Department, University of Montana Police, and the Missoula County Attorney. Both the Missoula Police and University Police have achieved compliance with the agreements, while the county attorney's office is on track to achieve full compliance.