BILLINGS – The Miles City Unified School District launched Monday a lawsuit of its own in response to a civil lawsuit filed in early October against the district and its former longtime athletic trainer, who is accused of sexual abuse spanning decades.
A civil lawsuit was filed earlier this month in Custer County District Court alleged James “Doc” Jensen sexually abused male students at Custer County High School in Miles City starting in the 1970s until he left employment with the school district in 1998.
In its own suit, the district said the plaintiffs, who are 19 anonymous male victims, have no legal grounds for the relief they’ve requested from the district.
The district also said it has in recent decades implemented policies and procedures to further protect students, including many of those requested by plaintiffs.
The original lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from Jensen, the Miles City Unified School District, Custer County District High School, and alleges Jensen used his position of trust to sexually abuse male students between the 7th and 12th grades.
In the district’s 24-page response, the district alleges that Jensen intentionally and fraudulently misled the school district in violation of his duty.
It also claims Jensen made intentionally false representations regarding parent complaints, with the intent that the school district would rely on those statements.
The countersuit also said the district had no knowledge of Jensen’s true activities.
The district maintains that from 1999 to 2000 there were multiple staff members who were investigated, removed and reported to the state, including two who were ultimately charged with crimes.
In its suit, the district said it believes the passage of time has impacted public schools more than many other institutions and that even in a litigious society the school district has investigated, disciplined, terminated and reported staff of concern.
The school district denies each of the 94 allegations against them in the plaintiff’s lawsuit and also alleges the plaintiffs fail to state facts sufficient to state a claim, that claims are barred by the statutes of limitations and that the claims for damages are barred by statute.
The school district denies the allegation that the coaching staff knew that Jensen was inappropriately touching the students.
The district also said in 1997 it received a complaint from a parent regarding Jensen. The district said it investigated and upon information and believe involved “general” unease and not the specific concerns of the present complaint, according to the lawsuit.
A claim in the plaintiffs’ civil lawsuit states that while on away trips with the football team, at least one of the members of the football coaching staff made multiple inappropriate jokes and comments regarding “special massages” from Jensen.
However, in the district’s legal response, it says it is “without sufficient knowledge to form a belief as to whether members of the football coaching staff make inappropriate jokes or comments regarding athletic massages.”
Jeana Lervick, an attorney representing the district, told Q2 Tuesday over the course of the last 20 to 30 years the district has changed many policies already. She said the district, in general, is more aware of how to deal with issues.
Some changes include windows in offices that allow for the supervision of students in the locker room in an effort to prevent bullying and other misconduct, she said.
In its countersuit, the school district is demanding a jury trial.
The Montana Department of Justice has established a dedicated phone number and email address for 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
Jensen has not been charged with a crime. Several, if not all, of the allegations, could fall outside Montana’s statute of limitations for sexual-abuse cases.
Reporting by Andrea Lutz for MTN News
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