When Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck refused to prosecute a rape case five years ago, he probably had no idea that anyone beyond a small circle of people would care.He learned otherwise quickly enough as the victim demanded a meeting with him (which she secretly — but legally — taped), organized a protest and made sure the media knew all about her plight.
Today, Buck is the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Michael Bennet. He leads narrowly but trails by double digits among female voters, many of whom believe his stances on abortion and other women’s issues are draconian.
The alleged rape victim is back and determined to be heard. She told her story to the Colorado Independent and provided the tape of their meeting (click here for a pdf of the transcript), in which Buck appears to all but blame her for the rape and tells her that her case would never fly with a Weld County jury.
“This case matters to the Senate race today because it shows his general view of women,” said Kjersten Forseth, who is interim executive director of ProgressNow Colorado and has also listened to the tape.
“This shows us how he views women and what he thinks their role is. It shows us that even when a woman is the victim of a rape he will not advocate for her. It shows that he is not a believer in women’s rights. He will not side with rape victims. This case is a statement on what his beliefs really are,” Forseth said.
“Do we want him making policy for the entire United States?” she asked.
ProgressNow is among organizations that have organized protests to draw attention to Buck’s stance on abortion, which he says should be outlawed even in the case of incest or rape.
The alleged assault occurred five years ago. A man entered the alleged victim’s apartment and had sex with her while she was drunk, she says. As she passed in and out of consciousness, she says she told him “no” and tried to push him away. If he had been a stranger, the case may have played out differently, but he was a former lover, and she had invited him over.
Those circumstances seem to have made all the difference to Buck.
The alleged perpetrator admitted the basic facts, as stated above, to Greeley police. The victim says the police department recommended the man be arrested on felony charges, though they dispute that now.
With any other victim, this case may have ended when Buck refused to charge the man with a crime.
This victim, though, has worked as a rape victims’ advocate, and she refused to let the matter drop. When her meeting with Buck got her nowhere, she organized a protest rally at the DA’s office. She spoke with the media. Buck was forced to respond.
He said the facts in the case didn’t warrant prosecution. “A jury could very well conclude that this is a case of buyer’s remorse,” he told the Greeley Tribune in March 2006. He went on to publicly call the facts in the case “pitiful.”
If he had handled it with a little more sensitivity, the victim, who does not want her name used, says it is possible she may have accepted the decision and moved on. But Buck’s words — as much as his refusal to prosecute — still burn in her ears.
“That comment made me feel horrible,” she told the Colorado Independent last week. “The offender admitted he did it, but Ken Buck said I was to blame. Had he (Buck) not attacked me, I might have let it go. But he put the blame on me, and I was furious. I still am furious,” she said.
It wasn’t just his public remarks that infuriated the woman. In the private meeting, which she recorded, he told her, “It appears to me … that you invited him over to have sex with him.”
He also said he thought she might have a motive to file rape charges as a way of retaliating against the man for some ill will left over from when they had been lovers more than a year earlier. Buck also comes off on this tape as being at least as concerned with the woman’s sexual history and alcohol consumption as he is with other facts of the case.
“She is very strong about her feelings,” said Forseth of the victim. “She believes a grave injustice has been done and that she is a victim of the system.
“What’s most troubling to me about this case,” Forseth continued, “is the way he talks to her in that meeting. There is just so much judgment, in his voice, toward the victim. I would think a district attorney would be an advocate for victims and offer some support, but instead he offers indignation and judgment.”
The suspect in this case had claimed that the victim had at one point a year or so before this event become pregnant with his child and had an abortion, which she denies, saying she miscarried. The suspect’s claim, though, is in the police report, and Buck refers to it as a reason she may be motivated to file charges where he thinks none are warranted.
“When he talks about the abortion as the reason she wants charges filed, that has nothing to do with the law or this case,” Forseth says. “That is his personal bias coming into play. He’s bringing his own personal beliefs and judgments to bear on this case, when he should be acting as a victim’s advocate.”
Buck’s problems connecting with women voters in the Senate race likely began with his support for Amendment 62, the Personhood Amendment, which would make even some common forms of birth control illegal. He also said people should vote for him in the primary instead of former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton because he doesn’t wear high heels.
Buck has not yet responded to repeated requests for interviews.
Greeley Police Sgt. Joseph Tymkowich said it is not accurate to say the department recommended felony charges in the case.
“We asked the DA to review the case and decide whether charges should be filed,” he said.
The report, however, suggests that the police did recommend charges. “I advised (the suspect) that I would be requesting a felony summons for sexual assault,” Detective Michael Zeller wrote in the report. The same information was given to the victim, who told the Colorado Independent last week that it was still her understanding the detective had wanted charges filed.
Greeley Police Chief Jerry Garner said that isn’t the case. He said the case was handled “exactly appropriately” by the DA. “This was a case that would never succeed in court. There was no chance this would result in a conviction,” he said.
At the time, Buck said he sent the police reports to the Boulder County DA’s office for review as well, and that they agreed with his analysis that this would have been a difficult case to prosecute.
The victim also says she showed the case to three different attorneys and was told by each that the case for conviction was much stronger than for acquittal. “None of them could understand why he wouldn’t file charges,” she said.
A rape victims’ advocate in Greeley told the Independent that this case seemed to be a turning point for Buck. The Weld County DA’s office “learned a lesson from that case,” Deana Davies said. Davies is coordinator of the Assault Survivors’ Advocacy Program in Greeley.
“He (Buck) came to us after that case and said, ‘We need to do things differently in the future. How do we do this better?’”
“The way he handled that victim was unfortunate, but he did learn from that experience.” Davies said that shortly after this case, Buck helped start the SART Program (Sexual Assault Review Team), which includes law officers, victim advocates and others who review cases that may fall into gray areas or look difficult to prosecute.
“I’d heard that as well,” the victim said. “That’s great. I appreciate that. Maybe something good came out of this, but it doesn’t change anything with my case. If he had just called me once and said, ‘I’m sorry, I screwed up,’ then I would have let it go. I would have said ‘I’m good’ and moved on, but that never happened.”
This is the first in a three-part Colorado Independent series on Ken Buck’s handling of rape cases as the Weld County district attorney and his stance on women’s issues. Parts two and three will run Tuesday and Wednesday.