Jacob Elder: ‘I have been exonerated from the sexual assault allegation’

UM cannot confirm or deny Elder’s statement, citing the investigation process

By: - June 7, 2021 9:29 pm

Jacob Elder, candidate for mayor in Missoula and student at the University of Montana law school, said an investigation cleared him of a sexual assault allegation. UM could not confirm or deny the statement, citing the investigation process. (By Keila Szpaller/The Daily Montanan)

Jacob Elder, a candidate for Missoula mayor, said in a Facebook post this weekend he was “exonerated from the sexual assault allegation against me.”

“I now feel an unwavering resolve to help fix a broken system as I do not want anyone else to be robbed of life and liberty,” Elder said in the Saturday post. “I have now made it a goal to advocate relentlessly for survivors and for people falsely accused and imprisoned!”

Elder is a student at the University of Montana Alexander Blewett III School of Law. Last month, he confirmed in a phone call that he was under investigation at UM for “sexual assault” and for being a “sexual predator.”

He declined to answer questions Monday in a phone call, and he did not provide answers by press time to questions sent to him via email.

In July 2020, UM entered into a contract with Grand River Solutions, a California firm that describes its specialty in part as providing Title IX support services to institutions of higher education. The agreement with UM said the firm would assign two senior staff members with training in sexual violence investigations and due process to investigate “potential policy violation(s).”

“The investigators will make factual findings and, if requested, come to a conclusion as to what is known about the allegations and whether respondent(s) violated the university’s policies,” the contract said.

Monday, UM confirmed that Grand River Solutions had delivered the report or reports outlined in its contract. However, UM could not confirm Elder’s statement because the institution does not comment on the specifics of an investigation.

UM procedures note its investigation process is different than a criminal process.

Elder, 28, declined Monday to answer questions. However, in a May 5 phone call with the Daily Montanan, he said the allegations arose after he went on a date: “I had asked her (his date) for a kiss, and she wasn’t OK with it.”

In that earlier phone call, Elder said UM conducted an investigation in early 2020 and found he had not violated the student code of conduct. At the time, Elder declined to provide a document confirming the result.

In the May 5 phone call, Elder said a Facebook page started in July with “sexual predator rhetoric,” and he said UM informed him a new investigation had opened based on the same issue, and an outside firm would investigate. Elder said he then learned the woman also alleged that “I had grabbed her crotch and wouldn’t let it go.”

“I can assure you there is no evidence,” he said at the time.

Monday, Elder declined to provide documentation, comment on the investigation process, or answer questions about the specific allegations.

In his Facebook post, however, Elder said, “likely, some people find it difficult to accept that most men are irreversibly damaged when falsely accused of rape or sexual assault.” He said “the prevailing cultural discourse” has an influence on law enforcement authorities.

“Often, false accusers are broken and come from environments filled with crime and violence — broken people trapped in chaotic lives,” Elder wrote. “Unfortunately, revenge against the wrong people is a common catalyst.

“To my accuser, I forgive you, and the God that I serve forgives you as well. I wish you healing and closure to any trauma you may have had.”

Title IX grievance procedures on the UM website note the university presumes a respondent “has not engaged in prohibited conduct until it has made a final determination at the conclusion of the grievance proceeding.” The standard used is the “preponderance of the evidence,” and the university aims to complete investigations in 60 days.

“The University investigation is an administrative process and is not the same as a legal civil or criminal process,” notes the procedure. “… Under the policy, individuals are presumed not to have violated the policy unless the investigator finds a preponderance of evidence that the policy was violated. A preponderance of the evidence standard weighs whether it is more likely than not that a policy violation occurred.”

UM spokesman Dave Kuntz declined to comment on the timeframe for the investigation. He confirmed any party can appeal the outcome of an investigation to the Title IX office. He also said it was not yet clear whether a hearing would be part of the process.

Elder is the only candidate running against incumbent Mayor John Engen, who is seeking his fifth term in office. Filing closes June 21.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. In Montana since 1998, she loves hiking in Glacier National Park, wandering the grounds of the Archie Bray and sitting on her front porch with friends. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana. She worked there from 2006 to 2020. As a Missoulian reporter, she was named a co-fellow by the Education Writers Association to report on a series about economic mobility; grantee of the Society of Environmental Journalists for a project on conservation from the U.S. to Africa; and Kiplinger Fellow in Digital Media and Public Affairs Journalism. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune and Missoula Independent, and she earned her master’s in journalism from the University of Montana. She lives in Missoula with her husband, Brock, who is also her favorite chef, and her pup, Henry, who is her favorite adventure companion. She believes she deserves to wear the T-shirt with this saying: “World’s most mediocre runner.”