Columbia Falls Youth Hockey Coach Pleads Not Guilty to Rape Charges

Jami Leslie James appeared for the March 30 arraignment hearing in Flathead District Court, where he is charged with four felony counts of rape involving two children; separate charges filed in Butte-Silver Bow County involve a third child

By Maggie Dresser
Jami Leslie James appears in Flathead District Court in Kalispell on March 30, 2023. James is charged with four counts of sexual intercourse without consent. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

A 47-year-old Columbia Falls youth hockey coach facing rape charges for allegedly sodomizing two 8-year-old players at a hockey camp in 2020 pleaded not guilty Thursday to four felony counts of sexual intercourse without consent.

Jami Leslie James entered the pleas during a March 30 arraignment hearing in Flathead County District Court before Judge Robert B. Allison.

According to an affidavit filed by Deputy Flathead County Attorney John Donovan on March 1, James hosted youth hockey players, who were attending a camp, at his home in Columbia Falls where he allegedly used “something” to penetrate the rectums of two boys in the summer of 2020.

During a forensic interview with authorities last December, one victim described staying overnight at James’ home, where the coach allegedly climbed into the player’s bed and assaulted the boy, causing him to scream, according to charging documents.

Another 8-year-old victim told authorities in January about a similar overnight at James’ home during hockey camp in the summer of 2020. When the youth player woke up to use the bathroom, James confronted him and asked if the boy “wanted to be fast like the other players?” James physically carried the boy into a bedroom and raped him, causing the boy to cry, records state.

The same victim told officers about a second event that occurred while camping on a boat at Hungry Horse Reservoir during the summer of 2020 where a similar incident occurred, records state.

A third incident occurred two weeks after the camping trip, again at James’ home and again involving a sexual assault in which James allegedly sodomized the player with a foreign object. The victim cried and asked for help at the time of the incident, records state, but James covered his mouth.

Earlier this year, James was also charged with two additional counts of sexual intercourse without consent in Butte-Silver Bow District Court. Those charges involve one of the same victims in Flathead County, as well as a third victim, records state.

The third victim, alleged that James raped him 2021 when he was under the age of 10.

Deputies with the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office arrested James on Feb. 6 and transported him to the Butte-Silver Bow Detention Center.

During an interview, James told Butte-Silver Bow detectives that he was a hockey coach who conducted summer hockey camps and weekend development camps across the state. He said he refused to participate in the Montana Hockey Associations due to being a “victim of racism,” according to documents.

James told police he had received several unfounded complaints in the past from Safesport, a company that allows parents to file anonymous complaints related to organized youth sports, and which accused him of “being mean to kids” and “telling kids he ‘loved them.’”

During the interview with detectives, James described himself as outspoken, and said he posted an anti-bullying video on Dec. 5 entitled “Ignore the Bull***t,” according to records. Twenty-four hours after posting the video, James said he received a notification from USA Hockey that he was suspended from his coaching duties.

A second complaint followed from Safesport, which alleged sexual misconduct on multiple children from 2019 to 2022, according to documents.

The Safesport investigation concluded that there were “issues” with having players stay overnight without adequate supervision at James’ home and that he was removed from Lake Tahoe, California Hockey over a Safesport violation, which James did not deny.

According to the investigation, James was also reportedly present in locker rooms one-on-one with kids and blew a kiss to a complainant’s son in a hockey arena, which James denied.

James was booked in Butte-Silver Bow Detention Center on March 7 and was transferred to the Flathead County Detention Center on March 28. His bond is set at $750,000.

James is scheduled to appear for an arraignment hearing in Butte-Silver Bow District Court on April 5. He is scheduled to stand trial in Flathead County District Court in October.