MILES CITY – More victims of sexual assault have come forward since Friday when news broke of a massive Custer County High School abuse case dating back decades, according to the Montana Department of Justice.
While investigators conduct interviews, Billings lawyer John Heenan, who is representing victims named in the lawsuit said the goal remains the same.
“Get justice,” said Heenan. “My phone has been ringing off the hook, both other victims and other people. People that knew what was going on, helping us to piece the puzzle together,” said Heenan.
On Friday, Heenan filed a civil suit in Custer County District Court on behalf of 18 men who say they were sexually abused decades ago by James “Doc” Jensen, a trainer at Custer County High School. All were students at the time. The suit also named the Miles City Unified School District as a defendant.
Late Monday afternoon, Heenan ran into a snag in his mission to still see criminal charges on behalf of a few of his clients against Jensen.
“We have just received word from the Montana Department of Justice that James Jensen cannot be prosecuted for his crimes in Montana, as his dozens (if not hundreds) of victims are not within the statute of limitations for criminal child sexual assault in Montana,” Heenan wrote in an email to MTN News.
Monday, when talking about the case, Heenan’s focus turned to changing Montana’s law on the statute of limitations.
Heenan said that it would appear that the youngest victims, now 36 and 37 years old, would have the standing to make a criminal complaint. However, he said, the 2017 Legislature didn’t make the statute of limitations “retroactive.”
The Legislature revisited and revised the statute of limitations for child sex abuse in the 2017 legislative session. Heenan said that rather than repeal the statute of limitations entirely, the lawmakers extended the time that a victim must report the crime from 10 years to 20 years after reaching the age of 18.
Back in 2016, Jensen reached out to his victims on social media, sending out friend requests on Facebook which got the ball rolling on the lawsuit, according to Heenan.
The lawsuit identifies at least 19 plaintiffs by initials and another 1 – 200 as “Joe Doe” victims who have yet to be identified.
Monday, the Miles City Police Department and the Department of Justice launched a criminal investigation into former longtime Miles City athletic trainer James Jensen, accused of sexually abusing possibly hundreds of boys decades ago.
Miles City Police Chief Doug Columbik, told MTN News his agency is ‘dropping everything’ to work on this case. He also confirmed his agency did conduct an interview with Jensen on Friday.
The lawsuit alleges Jensen sexually abused male students in Miles City starting in the 1970s until he left employment with the school district in 1998.
Now Heenan, who ran for a seat in the U.S Congress in 2018, said his legal team is demanding immediate legislative action to repeal the statute of limitations or make the current law retroactive.
“Montana is in the minority of states which afford child molesters protections under statutes of limitation. We demand justice,” said Heenan.
Outlined in the suit, the sexual abuse happened both on school grounds and in several homes in Miles City where Jensen lived at different times, the lawsuit states.
Attorney Jeanie Leavick sent a statement Friday on behalf of Miles City Public Schools, also named in the suit, calling the “absolutely atrocious” act described in the suit as “horrific.”
The Montana Department of Justice established that hotline for any alleged survivors of James Jensen to report allegations and provide contact information for investigative follow-up.
Citizens who feel they may have been victimized may call 406-438-2354 or email: MCSupport@mt.gov.
Reporting by Andrea Lutz for MTN News