A case of alleged rape that Colorado Republican Senate candidate Ken Buck declined to prosecute as Weld County DA in 2005 has reemerged in the news this week, drawing the Buck campaign into a conversation it doesn’t want to be having with weeks to go before election day.
The case first made waves in 2006, months after the December 2005 incident, when the alleged victim went to the press to complain about Buck’s handling of the case as Weld County DA. The Greeley Tribune reported at the time that Buck told the woman he could not press charges, because “he must only prosecute cases in which he has a reasonable chance of convicting someone, and this was not one of those cases.” The woman told police she was very drunk at the time of the incident, and had called and invited the man over.
“A jury could very well conclude that this is a case of buyer’s remorse,” Buck told the Tribune.
On Monday, The Colorado Independent published an article that included a new interview with the alleged victim, and a transcript of a taped conversation between her and Buck discussing the case. (The Huffington Post later obtained audio of the conversation). In the conversation, Buck tells the victim that it looks like she invited the suspect over to have sex with him.
Victim: So you’re telling me that previous sexual relations is enough to provide consent, and you’re telling me that because of me calling him and because of previous sexual relations and because I invited him up and told him how to get in, that invited him up for sex…
Buck: I’m telling you that’s what the circumstances suggest, to people,
including myself, who have looked at it. Although, you never said the word yes,
but the appearance is of consent.
For the article, the Independent spoke with the victim about the case. “That comment made me feel horrible,” the woman told the Independent of the “buyer’s remorse” line. “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.”
Since Monday, the Independent has published two follow-up pieces. On Tuesday, it published a transcript of a phone conversation between the victim in the case and the suspect, in which he essentially acknowledges the crime. The conversation was recorded by police and entered into evidence, according to the Independent:
Victim: “You do realize that … it’s rape.”
Suspect: “Yeah, I do.”
Thursday, the Independent published an article where the victim speaks further about the case and her take on Buck’s involvement.
“Buck told me that something morally wrong happened, but that it wasn’t legally wrong. I read him the statute (Colorado Revised Statute 18-3-402), which says it is sexual assault if the victim is physically helpless or intoxicated,” the victim said.
So far, Buck has only spoken to The Greeley Tribune about the story.
“The case was not prosecutable,” Buck told the Tribune this week. “I had four chief deputies in my office review the case. One of those chief deputies who had been a prosecutor for more than 30 years is now on the Colorado Court of Appeals. Another prosecutor that reviewed the case and decided it was not prosecutable was a female chief deputy who is now a county court judge in Greeley.”
Buck also says the “buyer’s remorse” quote was taken out of context.
“I listed five or six reasons why I thought a jury would not convict in this case,” he said. “She said she was passed out during the sexual act, so I wasn’t referring to whether she had buyer’s remorse for the act that they engaged in, but rather for the prior relationship they had.”
Meanwhile, Buck’s campaign has responded to the story much more aggressively than the candidate himself. Spokesperson Owen Loftus has said the story was pushed by the group Progress Now, which provided the tape of the conversation between Buck and the victim to reporter Scot Kersegaard. (Kersegaard has written at length about how the story came about here).
“This case was not prosecutable as found not only by all the law enforcement agencies in Weld County but also by the Boulder district attorney’s office,” Loftus told ABC News. “So this is just Progress Now trying to politicize this. Unfortunately there are cases that you just can’t prosecute because they’re not — there’s not a chance that the jury would find a conviction. That’s just how it goes with a district attorney’s office.”
Loftus went even further when talking to Westword.
In Loftus’s opinion, ProgressNow, Waak and others are acting as if they’re compassionate, “but they’re really exploiting victims — and that’s the really unfortunate thing about this. Now, a victim might not want to report a case because they’re afraid their story could end up on the front page of the Denver Post.”
It should be noted that media outlets regularly withhold the names of victims in sexual assault cases.
Buck’s record on women’s issues has come up often during the campaign. Buck’s stance on abortion — he opposes it even in cases of rape or incest — has been pointed to by Democrat Michael Bennet and other groups during the election. Buck originally supported the “Personhood Amendment” on the ballot in Colorado this year — but has walked that support back since the primary, saying “I’m not in favor of banning common forms of birth control.” In the primary, where he upset party favorite Jane Norton, he took heat for saying that people should vote for him because “I don’t wear high heels.” According to The Denver Post, Buck trails Bennet among women by 8 points. Buck has a 12 point advantage among men.
The TPM Poll Average for this race shows Buck leading Bennet 47.9%-44.1%.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com