Beyond the heartbreaking details of James E. "Doc" Jensen of Miles City -- the man accused of molesting dozens of boys during his time as a trainer at the public high school -- there is a tragic and glaring footnote of history.
Jensen, who admitted to The Gazette he'd molested boys in his care, had been under investigation 17 years ago by both state and federal authorities.
Yet nothing was done.
What makes the problem even more troubling is that when these agencies were asked to explain why they failed to catch Jensen years ago, they remain silent.
We can only take their silence as an acknowledgment of their failure to do more to protect the community and bring justice for those who had been wronged. And as gauche as it is to criticize those who catch bad guys, sometimes the truth needs to be said in an unvarnished, unequivocal way.
Finally, last December, the U.S. Attorney has charged Jensen with one count of coercion and enticement of a minor. On Tuesday, Jensen is expected to plead guilty to that count.
The state of Montana has charged Jensen with 10 counts of child pornography found on his computer in 2018.
The truth is the state and the federal authorities failed to bring what may prove to be the state's most prolific, notorious and sophisticated child molester to justice 17 years ago.
Had those agencies pursued the allegations that are now facing Jensen, 78, he may have already been in prison for years. Keep in mind: Jensen admitted some of what he is accused of. By bringing Jensen to justice sooner, it may have spared some of the guilt, shame and self-destructive behaviors for those who have accused Jensen of molestation.
A civil suit which has more than 30 victims has been filed against Jensen, the school district and other unnamed officials alleging they should have known about the abuse and should have stopped it. Jensen was hired by the district in the 1970s and his contract was not renewed in 1997.
The Gazette has confirmed that both state and federal agents visited at least two alleged victims, possibly more, during 2002 and 2003. Moreover, The Gazette confirmed that the U.S. Attorney's Office, which is handling the criminal case against Jensen because the state's statute of limitations has expired, only got the case in October 2018.
When contacted about the subject, the FBI refused to comment. It refused to comment on why the agency had investigated Jensen years before and did little. Maybe even more perplexing was that it had decided to proceed with a case now. We asked the FBI: What changed? What has led to charges now even after the agency had the chance to make a case back then?
Once again, the FBI remains silent.
The agency charged with ensuring justice now will not talk about how justice has been taken away from most alleged victims. The agency will tell you it's silenced by federal rules about pending cases. And yet it refuses to talk about the past cases or whether they're related to the current one. It refuses to acknowledge that by not completing its job, it helped ensure Jensen could not be prosecuted by state authorities because of the statute of limitations.
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Justice demands accountability and the FBI is failing.
It is equally vexing that the state had the opportunity to do the same. At least the Montana Department of Justice can confirm that it, too, was investigating Jensen, presumably because of some of his conduct. Victims said they were visited by state and federal investigators, a fact that The Gazette has corroborated. However, a letter obtained through a public documents request shows that assistant attorney general John P. Connor, Jr., told criminal investigator Gary Hatfield to close the file on the state's case because there wasn't enough evidence.
The Gazette followed up with the Montana Department of Justice to ask what had changed; we asked: Why wasn't there enough evidence in 2003, but suddenly there is enough in 2019? The department declined to answer those questions.
In interviews with the alleged victims named in a civil suit, several told The Gazette that investigators then were unwilling to pursue charges unless the victims could recount exact time, dates and places the alleged assaults took place. That seems like a difficult task as some of those incidents were presumably months or years old by then.
Another alleged victim told The Gazette that investigators said there was nothing that could be done because the boys were at the age of consent, which was 14.
Both the state Department of Justice and the FBI would not address if those were the reasons given all those years ago for not pursuing active cases against Jensen. If true, the victims' stories and the investigators lack of response represent a callous response to horrible allegations.
An attorney for the Miles City School District said that criminal investigators never contacted anyone on staff during their interviews.
"They didn't because (Jensen) was no longer associated with the school district in any way," said district attorney Jeana Lervick. "We know nothing of those investigations at this time, but we're interested in finding out more.
"To the best of our knowledge no one was interviewed because no one in the district was aware of (Jensen's) actions."
Here's the reality, though: Had criminal investigators done more with these allegations, they may have built a case. Moreover, had Jensen been brought to justice way back then, many of the victims would have still been within the state's statute of limitations at the time. That statute of limitations said that victims have 10 years beyond the time they turned 18 to report a case. In 2002 and 2003, that would have covered many of the victims. Now, in 2019, it covers none.
The victims could have also started getting help with recovery and closure instead of living with guilt, shame and confusion.
There's that old saying that justice delayed is justice denied.
The sad truth that justice at the state level has been denied. And it was thwarted by those who worked for agencies with "justice" in their name.