This story has been updated
A five-year-old rape case that was never prosecuted is suddenly causing major ripples in the Colorado Senate race and headaches for Republican candidate Ken Buck.
Three weeks from Election Day, stories have suddenly emerged about Buck's refusal to follow up on rape allegations involving a University of North Colorado student during his stint as Weld County District Attorney. He declined to file criminal charges against the alleged victim's attacker on the belief that not enough evidence existed to win the case, a conclusion that is not entirely rare with such delicate cases.
Renewed criticism, however, has erupted over Buck's handling of the case in light of some of his newly-resurfaced remarks, including a conversation he had with the victim and his suggestion that a jury would view the rape charges as merely her "buyer's remorse."
Buck's campaign told Politico on Monday that the entire topic was a non-story driven by a partisan organization. "Reputable news organizations should not be an echo chamber for Progress Now [the progressive group that first surfaced this incident]. We obviously can't trust them," Buck spokesman Owen Loftus said.
The Huffington Post has obtained the audio of the meeting Buck held with the victim as well as the pertinent police report -- both of which, critics say, make him seem callous and even hostile in dismissing her pleas.
"I know there are a lot of circumstances prosecutors take into account when prosecuting cases," said Kjersten Forseth, the interim executive director of ProgressNow Colorado. "I just think she was treated badly by Ken Buck. As a prosecutor, you are there to be a victim's advocate and not the rapist's advocate, and I just felt he was being more like the rapist's advocate."
In the five-year-old conversation, which the victim taped without Buck's knowledge -- which is within Colorado law -- Buck insisted that the circumstances of her alleged rape were inconclusive and would not provide him with an airtight case. The victim, then a 21-year-old student, had admitted she was intoxicated and invited her alleged attacker to her apartment. Her alleged attacker was also a former lover, though she said she hadn't seen him for more than a year.
"It appears to me and it appears to others that you invited him over to have sex with him," Buck said on the hazy recording, before acknowledging she may have been unconscious at the time. When the victim went on to say she had not consented to sex, woke up only to find herself being violated, and told the man to stop, Buck seemed unmoved.
LISTEN TO EXCERPTS OF BUCK'S CONVERSATION WITH THE ALLEGED VICTIM (Edited to protect victim's identity):
"[W]hen you describe yourself as "bedfellows," as you did indicate that you were "bedfellows," it's hard to convince a Weld County jury that this wasn't consensual, when that is your label," he said. "So there are those kinds of factors. This office doesn't believe in blaming the victim for the conduct of the case, but we do have to take into account what a Weld County jury sees in the relationship. You had consumed a lot of alcohol. You had a prior relationship ... According to him, you were naked from the top up when he came into the bedroom. So, there are enough indicators or indications that, in my opinion, make this impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt."
At another moment in the conversation, Buck urged the woman not to seek alternate legal remedies, floating the possibility of painful press coverage as a discouragement.
"Be aware of something, if this, if you file this motion, it will be very public, publicly covered event. There are a lot of things that I have a knowledge of, that I would assume [redacted] knows about and that they have to do with, perhaps, your motives for [unintelligible] and that is part of what our calculation has been in this."
The victim decided not to seek legal remedy, though the extent to which Buck talked her out of it is unclear. A source close to the woman told The Huffington Post that, as a college student, she did not have the money "to hire an attorney and pay for it herself."
At the time, Buck insisted his position was crafted through a sober calculation about prosecutorial facts. His office claimed to have consulted with the prosecutors in Boulder County who confirmed their analysis. "[D]ate rape is absolutely a crime and we will absolutely prosecute it," Buck assured Coloradans. "I don't want victims to be deterred from the pitiful facts in this case from coming forward."
Buck also claimed to have spent about two hours reviewing police reports before declining to take the case, arguing that there wasn't a clear-cut path to proving rape. The report itself was detailed and graphic. And while the circumstances that made Buck doubt the case's viability were noted throughout, there also were aspects of the file that seemed to invite further legal probing.
[WARNING: THE FOLLOWING EXCERPT IS EXPLICIT]
I [the police officer] then asked [redacted] if he realized that the victim was intoxicated prior to coming to her house. He stated 10-15 minutes after he arrived, he knew the victim was drunk. He stated his only intention originally was to lay next to the victim. He did state that he realized the victim was drunk prior to him having sex with her. He stated he has known the victim for 4-5 years and has seen her drunk many times. He stated they have had sex many times when one of them was drunk. He states after more questioning that maybe once or twice the victim said no. He stated he thought the victim did say no while he was fingering her. He stated he does recall her rolling away and saying no. He stated he agreed and then a short time later began touching the victim's back and again inserting his fingers into her vagina... he stated after he had intercourse with the victim and climaxed, that he pulled out. He stated when he did so, the victim was barely conscious and that's when he realized he had done something wrong. [Redacted] stated he thought the victim did say no shortly after he had climaxed, and while he was still inside of her.
Buck's office did not return a request for comment from The Huffington Post. Though Democrats either familiar with or working against his campaign were quick to pounce on the story as further evidence of his insensitivity to women's issues. In the Colorado Republican primary, one strategist reminded the Huffington Post, Buck nearly blew the nomination by chiding his opponent for wearing high heels.
Forseth, meanwhile, applauded the victim's "gumption" in being willing to open up old wounds. She acknowledged, however, that the case would not have resurfaced had she not approached the victim first.
"We tracked her down," said Forseth. "She wasn't looking to get this out there. But we managed to find her ... I just wanted to see what the actual case was. I wanted to hear her side and see what the case was."