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James E. Jensen

Ex-Miles City athletic trainer accused of abuse denies coercing a minor

Ex-Miles City athletic trainer James "Doc" Jensen was paid as an employee by the school district there for at least four years, according to documents filed Wednesday by plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Plaintiffs and the school district continue to spar in court filings about Jensen's status with the high school.

Jensen is accused of operating a systematic sexual abuse scheme known as "The Program" in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. The civil suit targets both Jensen and the Custer County High School District, which 31 alleged victims argue should have stopped Jensen's abuse.

Jensen faces separate criminal charges for possession of child pornography in Custer County District Court, and in federal court for coercion and enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity. Jensen has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

State investigators and Custer County officials said all of the alleged abuse of minors occurred outside the state's statute of limitations, so they were unable to charge Jensen with those crimes.

The alleged child pornography was discovered as investigators were looking into the abuse allegations. It's unclear when the federal investigation began, as the U.S. Attorney's Office said Wednesday "we neither comment on the existence of a case or on the status of investigations."

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 the boys, but denied other allegations.

Since the civil suit was filed, the school district has denied that it knew about Jensen's abuse, while plaintiffs argue that the district knew and failed to take actions — with both sides often citing the same evidence.

The plaintiffs' latest filling includes a "notice of employment" for school years from 1994-95 to 1997-98 shows that Jensen was slated to earn $1,548 in the first year and $1,638 in his last year as an "athletic trainer." He was also issued tax forms from the district from two of those years.

Wednesday's filings by the plaintiffs target an argument in a document filed by the school district Dec. 28 that Jensen was "not a regular employee" and "essentially a volunteer."

That characterization, however, "grossly misconstrues the facts," the plaintiffs argued Wednesday.

The two sides have traded shots in legal filings about the discovery process for the lawsuit, where each side can obtain evidence from the other. Plaintiffs have argued that the school district is "dragging its feet" and "evaded answering plaintiffs' requests." The district has argued that plaintiffs have unreasonable expectations for the discovery process and that much of the requested information doesn't exist.

Wednesday's filing also includes job applications from 1986 and 1997, both for substitute teaching positions, that shed further light on Jensen's education.

In 1986, Jensen referenced a pair of teaching licenses. According to Office of Public Instruction records, Jensen held a class 2 license — the most common teaching certification — from 1972 to 1977. It appears it was never renewed.

Jensen then applied for a different license in 1986, a Class 5 alternative license. It's unclear what type of license that represented in 1986; today, it is used for educators who will finish a college education program within three years. Information from 2002 is the earliest available on the Montana Secretary of State's rules website.

Jensen cited health and business education as subject areas for endorsement. OPI records show that his 1986 license certified him to teach those subjects, grades 5-12.

Neither filings from the plaintiffs nor the school district shed any light on whether Jensen was ever a substitute teacher.

The application gives different dates for when Jensen attended college.

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Jensen's 1986 application shows that he graduated from Northern Montana College — now Montana State University Northern — in Havre in 1972 with a major in business and a minor in health education.

His 1997 application shows that he graduated from MSUN in 1963 with a degree in education, a major in business and a minor in health.

The MSUN registrar's office said that Jensen earned a Bachelor of Science degree in secondary business education in 1972.

That application also shows he graduated from Great Falls High School in 1958 and attended junior high in Great Falls.

Both applications show Jensen taught at the now-closed Sacred Heart Catholic High School in Miles City from 1972 to 1975. The Gazette previously reported that Jensen was in Sacred Heart yearbooks in 1973, 1975 and 1976.

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James Jensen, 1973

James Jensen is pictured here in a 1973 Sacred Heart High School yearbook. 

The Gazette previously reviewed a Havre High School yearbook photo from 1972 in which he is pictured in two photos and listed as "trainer Jensen" and "trainer Jim Jensen."

The Havre Herald, an independent online news outlet, reported that Jensen appears in yearbooks from 1968 to 1972.

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