Plaintiffs’ filing rejects SD’s Jensen claim

By: 
ASHLEY WISE
Star Staff Writer
Friday, March 15, 2019

The plot thickens in the lawsuit by former students against the Miles City Unified School District concerning the ex-part-time athletic trainer, James “Doc” Jensen, 79, of Miles City.

According to a court filing by the school district on Monday in Montana 16th Judicial District Court in Miles City, district officials were not aware of the abuse, and they followed proper reporting procedures when the sexual abuse allegations were brought to their attention in the late 1990s.

According to the motion filed by the school district, the vicarious liability claim is “not an actionable claim or remedy recognized under the Montana law.” The motion also states that the plaintiffs’ claims of negligence are “improper.” Because of this, the district is requesting that these claims be dismissed. 

In a reply filed today by lawyers for the 32 plaintiffs, extensive documentation is provided to seemingly dispute claims by the district.

“Definitely I remember Mr. Jensen being there in ’98  (1998) for our physicals,” a man claiming to be a plaintiff said anonymously in a phone call to the Star arranged by local attorney Dan Rice, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs. 

School physicals take place in May every year. 

According to the caller, Jensen was also there for summer football practice in 1998 but once class started Jensen was no longer there.

The plaintiff also revealed that after Jensen was no longer with the district, the plaintiff was still going to Jensen’s house. In one of those visits Jensen revealed “he was quitting to dedicate himself to ‘The Program,’ which is what Jensen called his training regimen meant to improve athletic performance.

According to court documents filed by the plaintiffs, the vicarious liability is due to Jensen already being “deemed liable for sexual assault and abuse of plaintiffs by virtue of the default entered against him by this court.”

“This is not a harsh result given that he has admitted his abuse to the press and has now plead guilty to criminal charges related to sexual abuse of plaintiffs,” said the court documents. 

To address the second claim — that the school district followed proper reporting procedures — the plaintiffs’ court documents state that the vice principal at the time, Jack Regan, was informed by a parent in 1997 that Jensen was being inappropriate with male students.

Regan did not report the claims to the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), according to the plaintiff’s documents. 

The court documents also state that Regan reported the allegations to principal Fred Anderson, activities director Ted Schreiber and superintendent Bob Richards, who also did not report the alleged abuse to DPHHS as required by law.

“Under the statute in existence then, the district failed to fulfill its mandatory reporting obligation, and partial summary judgement is mandated,” said court documents. 

The plaintiffs also compiled information to dispute the claim that Jensen wasn’t employed by the district after the 1997 memorandum outlining conditions of his continued employment. 

According to the plaintiffs’ court documents, Jensen was a volunteer for the district from the 1970s until 1993, and was then paid by the district from the 1994 to 1998 school years. 

According to an article by the Billings Gazette, Jeana Lervick, district attorney, said that after the 1997 memorandum, Jensen quit coming to school. But, she told the newspaper, he didn’t resign and wasn’t terminated.

The 1997 memorandum was created in response to the complaints Regan received. It listed directives for Jensen to follow.

The directives that were given to Jensen were:

— “Your activities as athletic trainer at CCDHS be under the direct supervision of the coach of any individual you assist.”

— “You refrain from working with students in a one-to-one situation.”

— “You do not give body rub downs to any student unless there is at least a third person able to maintain a line of sight to the activity.”

— “Student athletes will not be invited to your house whenever you are the only adult present.”

— “Student athletes will not be invited to stay overnight in your house whenever you are the only adult present.”

— “You will cease operating any ‘mentoring program’ involving student athletes from CCDHS.”

The memorandum was signed by Jensen, acknowledging that his failure to follow the directives would result in his termination.

The then superintendent, CCDHS principal, CCDHS vice-principal and activities director also signed the document.

“The district wants to believe and has implied that Jensen left directly following the 1997 memo. However, Jensen remained employed through the winter and spring athletics season in 1998,” said court documents. 

The plaintiffs filed several pieces of evidence with their motion that included a Miles City Star article about the Custer County District High School (CCDHS) wrestling team from January 1998 that states “after doing some strength techniques with trainer Jim Jensen it was concluded (that the student) could not continue the match.” And a February 1998 photo in the Star showed Jensen standing next to the wrestling mats, watching a student wrestle. The plaintiffs’ court filing also included a March 1998 article from the Signal Butte, the CCDHS student newspaper, about the student athletic trainer program. The article refers to Jensen as “the school’s head trainer.” It goes on to say how Jensen recruited students to be mentored by Jensen as a student trainer. 

Also included in the court documents are a Star article from September 1998 about hiring a new athletic trainer.

“The article indicates that the school board voted unanimously to hire a ‘certified’ athletic trainer, noting the recent vacancy by Jim Jensen, who also provided athletic training services but was not a certified athletic trainer,” the court documents said. 

The lawsuit, filed in September, claims the victims were subjected to several different levels of sexual abuse, ranging from nude massages to oral sex. These abuses were part of what Jensen is alleged to have called “The Program.”

“The Program” was supposed to help improve a boy’s testosterone production, strength, fitness and overall athletic performance.

Jensen recently pleaded guilty to a federal charge of coercing and enticing boys. The charges are related to the accusations in the civil lawsuit from the plaintiffs. 

While Jensen can be charged for the coercion and enticement he can’t be charged for the alleged abuse.

He faces up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced on coercing and enticing charge in July in Billings.

Last month he appeared for his pretrial hearing on the state sexual abuse charges he faces in the Montana 16th Judicial District Court.

Those charges stem from alleged child pornography found last year on a computer in his room at a Miles City rest home where he was residing.

His local trial is scheduled for three days starting on Wednesday, June 26 with a panel of 12 jurors.

Jensen will not face criminal charges for the abuse alleged by the plaintiffs in the civil suit because the state’s 10-year statute of limitations had expired. The Montana Legislature is considering removing the stature for sex crimes involving children.

(Contact Ashley Wise at starnews@midrivers.com or 406-234-0450.)

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