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Jeff Lesowski: 'We need a DA's Office that will support and believe victims while also basing its decisions on the law.'

I am writing to set the record straight and respond to false claims made by individuals with political motivations about whether sexual assault victims are supported in Washington County.

As chief deputy district attorney in the Washington County District Attorney's Office, with over 24 years' experience prosecuting sex crimes and 15 years as the chair of the county's Sexual Assault Response Team, I know with absolute certainty that sexual assault victims are supported and believed in Washington County.

In 2018, the Washington County DA's Office received a state police investigation regarding allegations of sexual contact with female inmates by prison nurse Tony Klein. The investigation was reviewed by an experienced sex crimes prosecutor who determined that the available evidence was not sufficient to prove criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard set by the U.S. Constitution. Her decision not to file charges was based on the available evidence and was legally correct.

However, after that 2018 charging decision, two significant developments occurred: One, Tony Klein provided sworn deposition testimony, and two, the FBI conducted an investigation that picked up where the state police investigation left off.

Those additional facts were submitted to the U.S. Attorney's Office, and as a result, over three years later in March 2022, federal prosecutors were finally able to file charges. Importantly, the federal case is based on evidence that we did not have in 2018.

As professionals who work directly with sexual assault victims, we know we must support and believe them. We also know that a DA's Office must operate within the law and file criminal charges only when the evidence is sufficient to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt. Our decision not to file charges in 2018 was based on a legal analysis of the then-available evidence. Any suggestion to the contrary, especially by those with political motives, is not accurate and should be firmly rejected.

Under District Attorney Kevin Barton, himself a former child sex crimes prosecutor, the Washington County DA's Office is a statewide leader at protecting sexual assault victims and prosecuting sex offenders.

For example, we chair the county Sexual Assault Response Team, a multi-agency team that serves victims of sexual assault in a trauma-informed manner.

We launched a Sex Trafficking Task Force to combat child sex trafficking and support victims and survivors of commercial sexual exploitation.

We worked to have CARES Northwest, a specialized medical clinic that serves sexually abused children, open a dedicated location in Washington County.

And we are leading a campaign to establish the Family Peace Center, a pioneering facility that will provide support for child and adult victims of trauma, especially including sexual assault.

We are engaged in all of these efforts supporting sexual assault victims and survivors while we also are processing the hundreds of sexual assault cases that come to us annually.

And I find it especially troubling that false and politically motivated claims might cause even one sexual assault victim to think twice about reporting a crime. We have worked so hard over the years to ensure that sexual assault victims know they will be believed and supported.

We need a DA's Office that will support and believe victims while also basing its decisions on the law and the evidence. And we need a district attorney with the experience, respect, and integrity to set that standard. District Attorney Kevin Barton has proven he will do just that.

Jeff Lesowski is Washington County chief deputy district attorney.

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