MILES CITY – Friday, before a judge in Custer County District Court, 78-year-old James Jensen spoke loud and clear as he pleaded not guilty to 10 felony counts of child pornography.
All the while, Jensen is also the center of a complaint filed by 31 victims in a massive civil case claiming Jensen sexually abused them as teenagers at Custer County High School.
As of late Friday, Jensen was also indicted on federal charges of coercion from U.S Attorney Kurt Alme’s office.
However new details from the lawyers of Jensen’s alleged victims reveal how the victims are coping as both the civil and criminal cases carry on.
The healing comes in the form of talking.
The victims were student-athletes when they were allegedly abused by Jensen from the 1970s up until he left the school in 1998. Allegations of abuse took place at the school and at Jensen’s homes.
“It’s been important but difficult for everyone involved, ” said Dan Rice, an attorney for the victims.
Rice also attended Custer County High School but was not a victim of abuse. However, he is close to the situation.
“I’m uniquely close to the case just because some of the guys are my best friends,” he said.
Rice became involved in the case after Jensen was said to have reached out to victims on Facebook just months ago. That’s when the victims reached out to Rice, and he enlisted the help of another Miles City lawyer and a Billings lawyer, John Heenan.
According to the original lawsuit, Jensen was an athletic trainer with the school district for the Custer County Cowboys athletic teams and used that position of trust to sexually abuse male students between the seventh and 12th grades.
Much of the abuse started during annual physical exams the students were required to take to participate in sports activities.
Rice said the case is digging up stuff that the men haven’t dealt with since they were kids, and the healing from that involves therapy and support from helping each other.
“There is some strength in numbers. They get to get together and talk and discuss what they are going through. You know, and their home life, work life, personal life and with the case,” said Rice.
Rice and Heenan say Jensen’s victims dot the country. The victims have families and careers. Many still live in Miles City, and others in Billings, Helena and Bozeman. They meet, sometimes weekly, in Miles City and in Billings, according to Rice, or sometimes they conference on the phone to talk in support of one another
“But they are getting stronger every day, and I think we are going to move forward in a positive way for them.”
In December, Jensen was arrested when a housekeeper at the retirement home where he lives told police she found images of teen boys involved in sex acts on his home computer.
Since news broke of the massive lawsuit in September, many have said it’s rocking the community. Miles City has been known for its prestigious high school athletics program.
Some said they were shocked to hear the details.
“I knew him, Jim. Our kids were in school, and he seemed like a nice guy,” said Miles City resident, Bill Jensen. “You know, I don’t think I ever had a conversation with the man. But I have seen him at the sporting events and stuff, and I thought he had credentials.”
Bill Jensen, who has no relation to James Jensen, said he has children who attended Custer County High School around that time and were involved in sports. He admits he’s worried to ask his own son if he too was a victim of abuse.
“Every time it comes up, a lot of people with it was over,” said Bill Jensen.
Jeana Lervick, the attorney representing the Miles City Unified School District in the case, told Q2 News in an email this week, “The District will be opposing all of the Plaintiffs’ motions. We disagree with the facts presented and have been more than complying with discovery.”
Friday, the Custer County judge continued bond for Jensen at $100,000 plus added numerous conditions if Jensen does post bond.
However, attorneys said Friday that Jensen posting bond is not likely.