Montana's state investigative agency will assist Custer County officials in looking into allegations made that a Custer County High School trainer sexually abused up to 100 boys.
James Jensen, 78, worked at the school from the early 1970s to 1998. A lawsuit filed Friday says that Jensen groomed boys for "a structured, sophisticated system of ritual sexual abuse."
Attorney General Tim Fox's office announced Friday that he directed the Department of Justice's Division of Criminal Investigation. According to a press release, "state agents are coordinating with law enforcement and conducting interviews related to the allegations."
"We take the revelations that recently surfaced in Miles City very seriously," Bryan Lockerby, the administrator of the DCI, in the release.
With the involvement of the attorney general's office and DCI, the case becomes a criminal investigation that will run parallel to the plaintiffs' civil lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit 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.
Jensen instead preyed on young athletes' competitive drive and trust in him as a school official, the lawsuit says.
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.
When contacted by the Gazette, Jensen admitted to some of the abuse while denying other accusations.
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According to the lawsuit, at least 18 victims of Jensen have been identified. One lawyer called that number "just the tip of the iceberg."
"The allegations against James Jensen are deeply troubling, and my office will do everything in its power to ensure justice is served,” Custer County Attorney Wyatt Glade said. “I urge anyone who feels they have been victimized by Jensen to report the information to the Department of Justice as soon as possible.”
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.
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.
Miles City attorney Daniel Rice, one member of the team representing Jensen's alleged victims, said in a statement Saturday that several clients have reached out to him regarding Jensen’s partial confession. Rice said these men expressed both their shock and their anger regarding Jensen's unexpected admission to some abuses, and his disingenuous denial of other abuses.
"Our firm position is that all abuses described in the complaint did indeed occur as alleged, and that multiple boys suffered all levels of these abuses, despite Jensen’s denial," Rice said.
Rice went on to explain that for Jensen to trivialize some of the abuses, and to deny the most egregious of the sex acts he performed on these boys, is nothing short of cowardice.
"This man is evil. Pure evil. I believe this to be readily apparent and evidenced by his casual apology, acting as though he honestly assumed that he wasn’t causing these boys any harm at the time he was abusing them," Rice said.
"The extent of the damage that he has inflicted on these boys, which they’ve been carrying deep inside of themselves—festering for decades—is only now just beginning to reach the surface."