by William Skink
There is a big piece of the criminal justice puzzle that is NOT getting enough attention right now, and that’s the role of county attorneys.
After George Floyd was publicly murdered by Derek Chauvin, there was some scrutiny directed at Amy Klobuchar for her inability to hold Chauvin accountable when she was County Attorney:
Former Democratic presidential candidate and potential vice presidential pick Amy Klobuchar failed to get charges brought against the police officer involved in George Floyd’s death while serving as a county attorney in 2006, prompting criticism of her law enforcement background.
Derek Chauvin, the officer seen on video with a knee on Floyd’s neck Monday as Floyd begged for air, was one of six officers who fatally shot 42-year-old Wayne Reyes in 2006 after the man brandished a shotgun at the cops, according to a report by Minneapolis watchdog group Communities United Against Police Brutality.
It’s kind of amazing we still have Kirsten Pabst leading Missoula’s County Attorney’s office after our college town’s rampant rape culture became a book by Jon Krakauer. For a quick reminder on how screwed up Pabst’s priorities were at that time, here is a Billings Gazette piece blasting her bizarre presence at a University of Montana hearing defending an alleged rapist her office chose not to prosecute:
In 18 years, retired Dean of Students Charles Couture only saw one prosecutor or law officer testify as a witness at a University of Montana student disciplinary hearing: Kirsten Pabst.
Pabst, then Missoula County’s chief deputy prosecutor, testified on behalf of a student accused of rape. She had declined to file charges against the man.
In an interview last week, Couture described Pabst’s presence as “totally inappropriate.” He said he is still bound by privacy laws, but is able to discuss material from the 2011 hearing that is now in the public domain.
Last month, investigative journalist Jon Krakauer cracked open the door on the University Court proceeding in his book, “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town.”
The material offers new information about the role Pabst played at the hearing and raises questions about her decision to participate.
It’s worth lingering on this “totally inappropriate” incident with Pabst, and her hilarious justification for it. She was just providing a civic learning opportunity dontchya know:
Pabst has argued she did not testify on behalf of either party, but attended the 2011 hearing as an educational witness, in part because UM officials could “benefit from a civics lesson.”
She has said prosecutors have an obligation to “demystify the criminal justice process,” and in that role, she also speaks to numerous civic groups, students and others.
While the bulk of well-deserved outrage is being directed at police right now, the role of County Attorneys needs to get some serious attention, because they are the ones who are supposed to deliver justice when law enforcement breaks the law.
I received an email the other day reminding me of how three Missoula Sheriff deputies did the right thing by filing former complaints against their colleague, Douglas Hartsell, for using excessive force against a handcuffed citizen. After charging high with a felony (a common scare tactic to leverage plea agreements), Hartsell got this measly slap on the wrist:
A former Missoula County Sheriff’s Deputy has received a deferred prosecution agreement on allegations he choked a man in handcuffs during an arrest in November 2017.
The agreement, according to Lake County Attorney Steve Eschenbacher, requires Doug Hartsell to obey all laws and prohibits him from working in law enforcement over the agreement’s one-year term. No fines or counseling are sought through the agreement, the prosecutor said.
Eschenbacher filed to dismiss the case Jan. 23, and the judge granted the dismissal the next day. Eschenbacher said, per his agreement with Hartsell’s attorney, the deferred prosecution agreement will not be released and will not be available to the public in court filings.
This throat-choking deputy was called out by THREE of his fellow deputies for using excessive force, and his BIG PUNISHMENT is not being a Sheriff’s deputy for a year. No fines, no counseling.
How is that for justice, Missoula?
The Missoula County Attorney’s office makes determinations every day on who to prosecute, and who to NOT prosecute, and how that prosecutorial power is exercised in this little college town needs to be CONSTANTLY scrutinized so it’s not abused.
Scrutinizing this power will be a major focus of mine in the coming months. Stay tuned…