Former long-time Miles City high school athletic trainer James Eric “Doc” Jensen was arrested Thursday and jailed in Custer County on 10 counts of possessing child pornography.
Some of the pornographic images were of boys as young as age 9, the charges state.
The 78-year-old Jensen is being held on $100,000 bail.
"The criminal investigation into Jensen began in September, shortly after Custer County Attorney Wyatt Glade first became aware of allegations that Jensen had sexually abused minors," the county attorney's office said in a press release.
The state Division of Criminal Investigation as well as Custer County officials said Thursday that all of the potential abuse of minors had happened outside the state's statute of limitations, so they were unable to charge Jensen with those crimes. However, the child pornography had been found as investigators were looking into those allegations.
The 10 pornographic images were found in September after a housekeeper at Eagles Manor, a care home where Jensen resides, told police she had seen the images on his computer.
“She had pointed at the computer and asked (Jensen), ‘What are these?’,” the charges state. Jensen said “the images were of his nephews from New York.”
In the images, “the boys were fully nude and their penises were visible,” the charges allege.
Agents with DCI searched Jensen’s room and seized a laptop computer, a tablet computer and an SD memory card which contained "images of clothed and nude boys," according to court documents.
One image “appeared to be that of a prepubescent male posed frontally nude with a wrench in his mouth.”
Another image depicted a “younger pubescent male engaging in a sex act with another person.”
An audit of Jensen’s computer search history revealed numerous searches for pornography, particularly searches involving young boys, records state. A doctor helping with the investigation estimated the boys in the photos were from around age 9 to perhaps age 16.
In the related civil case, Jensen has been named along with the Miles City Unified School District and others in a lawsuit alleging he sexually assaulted as many as 100 high school students during his 30-year tenure with the district.
In conversations with The Gazette, one alleged victim described Jensen’s abuse as “diabolical.” Another described his interaction with Jensen as “something like a horror movie.”
And while many of the plaintiffs in that lawsuit are disappointed that Jensen can’t be prosecuted for his alleged abuses during his time as an athletic trainer, they are grateful he’s at least facing some charges, said Miles City attorney Dan Rice who is co-counsel in the lawsuit.
Since the suit was filed in September, other potential victims have come forward to join the suit, Rice said. An amended suit including the additional victims, along with other new information about the alleged abuses and the school district’s response to complaints from parents about Jensen will be filed in the near future, Rice said.
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One of those victims told The Gazette Thursday he’s somewhat relieved that Jensen is in jail, but were it not for the state’s statute of limitations Jensen likely would have been jailed months or even years ago.
“He would have been in jail instead of out committing other crimes, like child pornography. Those people in child porn are victims, too. They’re real people,” he said. The Gazette has a policy of not naming the victims of sex crimes. The Gazette knows the name of this alleged victim and his identity has been verified by his attorney.
Jensen’s work in the district
Although he had no relevant training, Jensen worked for the school district as an athletic trainer from the 1970s to around 1998.
The lawsuit alleges Jensen used that position to groom and then sexually molest dozens of young athletes. Along with Jensen, Custer County District High School and the Miles City Unified School District, the lawsuit also names John Does 1-200 representing any school employee who may have known about the alleged abuse but failed to stop it.
During his long tenure as athletic trainer, Jensen devised what he called "the Program," a system he told young male athletes would boost their athletic performance by increasing their testosterone, according to the lawsuit.
To produce more testosterone, Jensen convinced the boys that he would need to masturbate them, the suit claims. The suit also alleges Jensen performed athletic physicals on boys despite having no medical certification, and that during interactions with some of the boys he used fingers to penetrate their anuses.
Jensen masturbated the boys both in an office he had inside the boys’ locker room at the high school, and at his home, the suit alleges. Several of the victims interviewed earlier this year by The Gazette alleged that at Jensen’s home, he provided the boys with alcohol, video games and sometimes pornography.
In a telephone conversation with The Gazette the day the alleged victims' suit was filed in September, Jensen admitted to some of the allegations, including masturbating boys, but denied other allegations.
The school district responded to the lawsuit in October by acknowledging that the district received a complaint from a parent about Jensen in late 1997.
“The School District further admits that the complaint received was investigated and, upon information and belief, involved 'general' unease and not the specific concerns of the present complaint," the response states.
The cross-complaint described the concern at the time as "vague in nature and nothing near the allegations recently made."
Rice said he and some of the alleged victims in the lawsuit have been working with state legislators to craft bills that could reform Montana's statute of limitations laws.
Among the bills are those that would repeal the civil and criminal statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse, as well as a prohibition against teachers and school faculty from having sexual contact with our children, Rice said in a statement.
“There is a clear power imbalance between school faculty and their students, and significant trust for our children's safety is placed in school systems and their employees,” he said. “It is unacceptable that a child predator, such as Jensen, should be able to take advantage of their access to children for purposes other than education, to include their sexual exploitation, without criminal repercussion.”