Posted in News on March 12, 2019
A lawsuit filed by John Heenan of Heenan & Cook, along with Miles City attorneys Bryant Martin and Dan Rice, may change how Montana courts prosecute child sexual abuse cases. A high-profile case based in Miles City involves child sex abuse allegations against former athletic trainer James “Doc” Jensen, who abused at least 18 boys in his care from the 1970s through 1998. Heenan, Martin, and Rice believe that the final victim count may be as high as 100 boys from Custer County District High School.
The Case Against Doc Jensen
James “Doc” Jensen. aged 78, worked as an athletic trainer at Custer County District High School in Miles City. In his capacity as athletic trainer, Jensen oversaw workouts, scrimmages, home games, and even traveled with teams to away competitions. He also performed district-mandated physical exams for the athletes, along with massage therapy and other services. It was during these times that Jensen took advantage of his position and sexually abused at least 18 boys in his care. The actual number of victims may total 100 or more.
Jensen began working for Custer County District High School in the 1970s and continued his career for over 20 years, until 1998. It is unclear whether the school fired Jensen or if he left out of his own accord. The catalyst for his departure was a complaint from a parent who objected to the nature of Jensen’s physical exam.
It is unclear whether the school district or the high school knew of Jensen’s crimes. The Miles City Unified School District, Custer County District High School, and John Does A-Z are also defendants in the lawsuit, alongside Jensen. The attorneys in this lawsuit filed a civil action against Jensen, rather than a criminal case, because the current statute of limitations in Montana prohibited a criminal case. However, Montana lawmakers may change this rule due to the facts of the Jensen case.
Montana’s Current Statute of Limitations for Child Sex Abuse
Montana’s current system to prosecute individuals who sexually abuse children hasn’t had any updates in several decades. Under Montana law, the state cannot charge individuals with child sex abuse felonies after a 20-year statute of limitations. The victims of child sex abuse in Montana have 20 years from the day they turn 18 years old to press criminal charges against their abuser. After that time passes, the victims have few options to seek justice, aside from a civil lawsuit.
Since the last instance of sexual abuse that Jensen committed occurred in 1998, many of his victims are past this statute of limitations. Some of the younger students, who were 14 when the abuse began, may still be eligible to pursue criminal charges. However, this remains unclear and most of the victims cannot seek resolution through a criminal case.
The Child Sex Abuse Bi-Partisan Compromise
In February 2019, Montana lawmakers unveiled a bi-partisan compromise to change this statute of limitations and allow more victims of child sexual abuse to seek justice against their abusers. The bill contains elements of previous pieces of legislation introduced in Montana, allowing both parties in the state to remove time limits on justice for child molestation victims.
Under this new bill, the state will remove all statutes of limitations on bringing criminal charges against perpetrators of child sexual abuse. In addition, the compromise bill will increase the time limit that victims can file a civil suit against their abusers to nine years after they turn 18. In addition, victims can file lawsuits within two years after their abuser admits that he or she committed a crime or received a criminal conviction, or two years after the victim uncovers evidence showing that the abuser knew about the abuse.
These changes would significantly open the pathway to justice for many victims of child sexual abuse and hold abusers accountable throughout the state of Montana. Thanks to the brave efforts of Doc Jensen’s victims, more children can seek resolution for the abuse they suffered.
Contact Heenan & Cook, PLLC
For questions regarding child sex crimes in Billings, contact our office today to schedule a free initial consultation and case evaluation. Our attorneys are available to answer any legal questions you may have and guide you towards your best legal options in Montana.