Crime

Bellingham wrestling coach guilty of lesser charges for relationship with teen girl

A former girls’ wrestling coach for the Bellingham School District must serve 45 days of jail time for having an inappropriate relationship with a girl on the team, a Whatcom County judge ruled this week.

Jaron Gerard Kensok, 36, of Bellingham, coached a co-op wrestling team of teenage girls from Bellingham high schools until February 2014, when police got a tip he might be having sex with a 17-year-old on the team.

A detective spoke with the teen. She said that in January, Kensok talked to her about a “dream he couldn’t get out of his mind” where the two of them had sex in a car, according to charging papers. She went on to say they’d been meeting before school and after wrestling practice, and one time they’d left school together for a drive to Deception Pass. Security footage showed Kensok and the girl in his car that day, according to the charges.

The teenager reported she had sex with Kensok twice in February at a business park in Bellingham, a few weeks before her 18th birthday. Kensok bought her a Victoria’s Secret gift card for Valentine’s Day, she reported.

Once officers got a warrant to search Kensok’s phone, they found he told the girl over text messages to act surprised if police asked about their relationship. He told her to deny he’d made advances at her, and to deny they ever met up or went anywhere together.

Kensok was charged with two counts of sexual misconduct with a minor: It’s illegal in Washington state for teachers, coaches or anyone in a “supervisory” position to have sex with a 16- or 17-year-old, if the educator is older than 21.

Within a month of the charges coming to light, the young woman, who had by then turned 18, recanted much of her story.

“I was not sexually assaulted by Jaron Kensok at any time, ever,” she wrote in a declaration to the court — on the stationary of Lustick, Kaiman & Madrone, the law office representing Kensok — in April 2014.

She told a Bellingham Herald reporter last week she had embellished on the real story in a 45-page statement she wrote for police. She acknowledged they had been sending inappropriate texts. But according to her, they never had sex. That part, she said, was a lie that spiraled out of control.

As the case remained in limbo, Kensok’s wife filed for divorce. Later he violated a no-contact order she had against him. He pleaded guilty to that crime as part of a larger plea deal. A municipal court judge sentenced him to 10 days in jail plus two years on probation.

Girls from the wrestling team and their parents wrote six letters expressing support for Kensok, e.g., “He is a man of great integrity,” “I continue to trust and support him,” “I chose not to graduate a year early from high school so I could be on his team again my senior year.”

Several girls showed up to support Kensok at a hearing Wednesday in Superior Court.

He admitted guilt to reduced charges of assault in the fourth-degree with a sexual motivation and witness tampering. Superior Court Judge Ira Uhrig approved a plea bargain ordering him to spend 45 days in jail, counting the municipal court sentence. He can serve that time on a work crew.

Deputy Prosecutor Jonathan Richardson said the victim’s recanting would have been difficult to overcome at trial.

“The state believes the original claim,” Richardson said. “But we have a case where there are only two people in the room.”

Kensok did not address the judge. His lawyer, Mark Kaiman, called the ordeal a “hard lesson learned.”

“He’s not going to be in a position where he’s coaching anymore,” Kaiman said.

Since last April, the young woman has asked Superior Court judges to nix a sexual assault protection order between her and Kensok. She asked Uhrig again Wednesday, Feb. 4, at Kensok’s sentencing.

“First and foremost, I’d like to say that I am not a victim,” she read aloud to the courtroom. “I’ve never been hurt, harmed, harassed or assaulted by Jaron Kensok, and if anything you might even consider him a victim of slander and false accusations on my part.”

Uhrig denied her request, for now. Kensok will undergo what’s called a domestic violence evaluation. Afterward the no-contact order can be reviewed.

“Her legal status is that of a victim,” Uhrig said, “though she does not feel like a victim.”

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