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Custer County High School

Custer County High School in Miles City, photographed in 2012.

During his 28 years working as an athletic trainer for the Custer County District High School in Miles City, James “Doc” Jensen groomed and sexually abused as many as 100 boys, according to a lawsuit filed Friday.

The suit, filed in Custer County District Court in Miles City, names Jensen as a defendant, along with the Miles City Unified School District, the high school, and John Does A-Z representing as yet unnamed school and athletic officials who may have known of Jensen’s alleged sexual abuses and failed to stop him.

“This was a structured, sophisticated system of ritual sexual abuse,” said Miles City attorney Daniel Rice, who filed the suit with his partner Bryant Martin and Billings attorney John Heenan.

At least 18 victims already have been identified, and “that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Heenan said.

“This abuse went on for years, and there are a lot of people out there who think they’re the only one. This is high-level child molester stuff,” Heenan said.

Contacted by phone Friday, Jensen offered an apology to the victims he sexually assaulted, and also a denial.

“I did masturbate some of the boys,” he said. “And I’m sorry for that. But, the lawsuit said there was also oral sex and anal probing, and that isn’t true.”

The 78-year-old Jensen said he hoped his actions “didn’t do a lot of emotional or other trauma to the boys.” (Read the Gazette's related story for more on Jensen's response.)

Miles City Public Schools is "extremely concerned by the allegations set out in the complaint," according to a response provided by the law office of Felt, Martin, Frazier and Weldon P.C. 

"The absolutely atrocious acts described in the complaint that took place 20 or more years ago are horrific," according to the district's response. "Each of us currently in the district — our educators, trustees and staff — cares first and foremost about the safety and well-being of our students. We believe that even one child harmed on our watch is not acceptable and will do anything we can to get to the bottom of this situation."

Miles City Superintendent Keith Campbell was out of the office Friday.

Jensen began working part-time as an athletic trainer for the high school sometime in the early 1970s and continued until the district terminated him for unstated reasons in 1998.

Because the state’s statute of limitations laws regarding sex crimes against minors have evolved in stages over several decades, it isn’t clear how many of the abuses Jensen could potentially be charged with. A few of the younger victims could still fall within the state’s current statute limit of 20 years after the victim is no longer a minor. If victims are within the statute and willing to come forward to law enforcement, criminal charges could be pursued. 

According to the suit and Gazette interviews with several of the victims, Jensen developed an elaborate scheme he called “The Program.” It was a system he promised would enhance the athletic performance of the boys, some as young as age 14, by boosting their strength, fitness and testosterone levels.

That Jensen can't be prosecuted for most of the alleged crimes was news to several victims who told The Gazette that among their reasons for speaking now about their abuse is their wish that Jensen die in prison. The victims were also united in their hope that the suit prompts changes in Montana law and changes in school policies that protect children. The Gazette has a policy of not naming the victims of sex crimes.

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James E Jensen

James E. Jensen

The grooming regimen began with routine, state mandated annual athletic physical exams in which Jensen touched the boys’ genitals under the guise of a hernia check, although the suit said he has no known medical training. The touching escalated to nude massages, masturbating the boys, measuring their penises, collecting their semen for “testing,” oral sex and digital anal penetration, the suit alleges.

“Jensen used the authority and trust of his position with the district to groom, entice, induce and coerce plaintiffs for the purpose of sexually abusing them on an ongoing basis,” the suit alleges.

Jensen still lives in Miles City, along with many of his alleged victims.

Some of those victims say that six to eight weeks ago, Jensen began contacting them through Facebook by sending friend requests. Jensen has also posted an apology to a “Custer County Grads” Facebook group. A copy of the post is included in the lawsuit.

“I want to ask for forgiveness from anyone I may have hurt emotionally or physically during my 28 years as the Cowboy Trainer,” the post states.

It was those friend requests that for several victims triggered long-repressed memories of the sexual abuse and fueled their desire for justice and healing.

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Jim Jensen apology

‘Doc’

Among many school faculty members, coaching staff and student athletes, Jensen was known as “Doc,” although he is not a doctor and is not a licensed medical professional, the suit states.

Jensen attended workouts and scrimmages and traveled with the team to away competitions.

As part of his duties as athletic trainer, Jensen performed district-mandated physical exams on hundreds of prospective athletes, including feeling their testicles and genitals for signs of hernia, the suit alleges.

“The district allowed ‘Doc’ to perform certain tasks which would typically be performed by a medical doctor or other appropriate medical professional,” the suit states.

Jensen had an office at the high school inside the boys’ locker room, which had a large window overlooking the boys’ shower bay. The office included a massage table and a countertop. Coaching staff would refer young athletes to Jensen for therapeutic massage and other treatments like taping ankles and wrists.

Some of those treatments occurred in Jensen’s home, even as he moved from one Miles City home to another, where he had set up an office and where much of the alleged abuse occurred. Several of the earliest victims allege Jensen sometimes had his own family members at home, but kept his “training office” in a separate part of the house. Later, Jensen lived alone, several victims said.

“Jensen required the boys seeking treatment to remove all of their clothes regardless of the location of the injury on the body,” the suit alleges.

Some of the boys refused to return to Jensen for care because he had touched them inappropriately, the suit continues. Some of the boys complained to coaching staff about being uncomfortable with Jensen, but the coaching staff “insisted the boys receive massages” and other treatments “despite their objections.”

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Custer County High School

Miles City players hold their helmets during introductions during the Class A semifinal football game in 2010. A lawsuit alleging sexual abuse of student athletes by a former Custer County District High School trainer was filed Friday.

‘The Program’

Jensen targeted young athletes who because of their small size or lack of natural ability were underperforming, the suit alleges. During the 1980s and '90s, in the era of steroids and cheating scandals nationally, Jensen promised the boys a natural method for enhancing athletic performance by increasing their testosterone levels, strength and fitness.

The program and its pioneering methods promised such amazing results that the public and other schools would presume it was cheating, Jensen told the victims, so they would have to keep it a secret. He told some of the boys he was compiling data from his program that would eventually be published and marketed and that the boys may be able to share in the royalties, another reason to keep it quiet.

Several of the victims interviewed by The Gazette said because they were young and naïve, and because they trusted Jensen and school officials, they believed the program was working.

Jensen used that belief to convince the boys to recruit others, including in some cases their younger brothers, into the program, the victims alleged. He also used that belief to encourage older boys to intimidate anyone considering leaving the program or exposing the program. Several victims said they were told they would be labeled homosexual within the school if they didn’t comply with the program’s demands or didn’t keep the secret.

In the program, boys would move through as many as 10 levels, each one escalating to more invasive abuse.

As evidence of the program’s effectiveness, and encouragement for the boys to progress to the next level, Jensen would generate what the suit calls "fictitious records" that he would show the boys charting their progress. The deception was aided by the Custer County District High School Cowboys football team coincidentally winning state Class A championships in 1981, 1985 and three in a row beginning in 1994.

“Jensen informed some of the district’s coaches and staff of the existence of his training program and coaches and coaches and staff would discuss the program with student athletes and encourage participation,” the suit states. “Jensen recruited students to be part of his program during school time, on school grounds and during school-sponsored athletic activities.”

In his home, Jensen set up a private office, with a massage table, that he called the “training room,” according to the suit.

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The home also included a lounge area where boys would gather to play video games, eat snacks, drink alcohol and look at pornography that Jensen allegedly provided, several of the victims told The Gazette.

“Jensen advised the boys that one of the necessary levels would include testicular massage, which would result in a significant boost in testosterone levels,” the suit alleges. Jensen would then masturbate the boys to ejaculation, the suit continues.

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Denton Field in Miles City

The scoreboard at Denton Field in Miles City during the Class A semifinal football game in 2010. A civil lawsuit alleging sexual abuse of student athletes by a former Custer County District High School trainer was filed Friday.

The boys, many of them from families with a religious upbringing, were assured the masturbation was not sexual, but clinical.

“He advised them it was necessary for a male trainer to masturbate them, as opposed to a female trainer, because any sexual arousal would be counterproductive to the production of testosterone,” the suit says.

Beginning at this level of the abuse, Jensen would allegedly begin collecting and “testing” the boys’ semen. The program included body measurements taken by Jensen, including bicep and chest measurements, and eventually “penis length measurements,” the suit states.

Sometimes, Jensen would tell boys who became reluctant to continue in the program that their testosterone levels had stopped rising “as a ploy to coerce the boys into moving up to the next level.”

For many, that next level included Jensen performing oral sex on them, and anal digital penetration suggesting it was a prostate exam, the suit alleges.

“When a boy would object, Jensen would become angry and insult the boy’s commitment to his sport and team and question his masculinity,” according to the lawsuit.

To further entice other boys to continue progressing through the escalating abuse, Jensen promised some of them varsity letters in athletic training, and help with landing scholarships to play college sports, the suit and several victims allege.

Who knew what, when

Some of the coaching staff knew that Jensen was improperly touching students, the suit claims.

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Custer County Courthouse

Custer County Courthouse in Miles City.

“At least one of the members of the football coaching staff made multiple inappropriate jokes and comments regarding ‘special massages’ from Jensen.”

“Coaching staff were aware that boys would routinely receive massages in Jensen’s office, often while completely nude,” the suit continues. “Such office has large open windows and was within the view of coaching staff and physical education teachers.”

In approximately 1998, a concerned parent reported to high school Vice Principal Jack Regan that Jensen was performing “hernia checks” on boys during the district’s athletic physicals at school and without medical qualifications.

Shortly later, Jensen was no longer working in the district, the suit says.

“The district did not attempt to contact any of the victims of ‘the program’ or their families regarding the alleged sexual abuse,” the suit continues. “The district did not offer or recommend counseling services to the victims.”

It’s that last allegation that especially baffles Heenan, the attorney.

“Why not let the parents know? Why not let the victims know they weren’t alone? Why leave these victims to be scattered around after high school, all of them dealing with the fallout of the abuse?” Heenan said.

The suit seeks a yet-to-be-determined financial sum to help the victims recover, along with a list of school policy changes intended to keep students safe from sexual abuse.

“We trust schools to protect children, to not let pedophiles have contact with children,” Heenan continued. “But they had this information. Why let these kids go quietly away? They should be in counseling, getting help.”

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Warning: Graphic details of alleged abuse in this story could be offensive or disturbing to some readers.

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City Editor

Chris Jorgensen is a city editor at The Billings Gazette. He oversees business, education and entertainment coverage.