MILES CITY — Downtown Friday night in Miles City in between the sounds of traffic are the sounds of football—music, cheers, cannon blasts for every Cowboy touchdown—carried over the loudspeakers from Connors Stadium and drifted down into the streets.
A lawsuit filed earlier in the day alleged that a former employee of Custer County District High School who worked as an athletic trainer may have sexually abused up to 100 students, many athletes, during his tenure with the school district that stretched from the early 1970s until 1998.
The news was still trickling out as the football game against Hardin kicked off. Of the nearly 20 people approached by The Gazette over the course of the evening, most declined to speak or declined to give their names and indicated a range of concerns from the sensitivity of the topic, a fear of speaking out of line in a small town, or simply not knowing enough about the allegations against James “Doc” Jensen.
Versions of one word kept coming up though. Several people described the news as “shocking,” said their reaction was one of “shock,” and others maintained that hours after the lawsuit against Jensen was made public they still found themselves “shocked.”
Seated downtown on patio furniture at Main Street Grind, Mary Catherine Dunphy was willing to talk. Dunphy, 67, said she moved to Miles City in 1995, having previously lived in Billings and Washington, D.C. Dunphy described herself as the survivor of a sexual assault by a stranger at knifepoint that took place when she was 24 years old. The person who committed the crime was never caught, she said.
“I can tell you that as a survivor, that being a victim of sexual assault, it is lifetime. You get over it on a certain level but you also never get over it on another level.”
When it comes to the allegations against Jensen, some of which he admitted to Friday in telephone interviews with KULR8 and The Gazette, Dunphy wondered just how many people knew what was going on. She said that she, and others she had spoken with, were concerned at how alleged victims had suffered emotionally in the years since.
“People are really talking about it and upset. It’s hard on the community,” Dunphy said “I think the community is probably being traumatized and the victims are probably being re-traumatized. And anyone who was ever sexually assaulted is being (re-traumatized),” she said.
She described the potential financial effects on the school district as “devastating,” and wondered where the money would come from.
Dunphy described Miles City as a community that has felt safe to her and a wonderful place to live.
Athletics are “Extremely important, very important,” she said. “If you go over to that game, you’ll see, all the cars, I mean it’s a big deal. Basketball, football, wrestling, they get behind it here. It’s very important and actually it’s one of the great things that’s great about Miles City. It’s very community oriented that way.”
Down the street on a bench outside the Trails Inn Bar, 57-year-old Lyle Haynes smoked his pipe and said he’d heard something of the allegations, but wasn’t entirely sure who was said to have committed what crime. Haynes said he spends much of his time outside the bar since a head-on wreck more than a decade ago left him too disabled to work.
“I just hope they do something about it instead of slap him on the wrist and send him down the road,” Haynes said. “If he did what they said he did, then he needs to be punished.”