Sex assault charges against former Two Harbors bus driver dismissed
After consulting with law enforcement, jurors and parents of the alleged victims, the St. Louis County Attorney's Office on Friday dismissed sexual assault charges against a former school bus driver.
Jimmy James, 64, of Two Harbors was accused of molesting five girls between the ages of 6 and 10 on the North Shore Community School bus he drove. The case went to a St. Louis County jury in November and jurors found James not guilty of three counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. However, the jury was unable to reach unanimous verdicts on the other two counts of the same crime, leading Judge David Johnson to declare a mistrial on those two counts. A new trial on those two counts had been scheduled for May.
But on Friday, Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Nathaniel Stumme, who prosecuted the case, filed a dismissal of the remaining counts against James.
"In reaching the decision to dismiss, the state consulted with law enforcement and the parents of the (alleged) juvenile victims," Stumme wrote in his dismissal filing. "Input was received from jurors on the merits of the case and the potential for successful retrial of the two remaining charges. Factors considered included the well-being of the victims and the duty to ensure public safety. Ultimately, the state is confident that dismissal is the best course of action."
James, the father of three and grandfather of seven, drove a school bus and worked as a school custodian for more than 38 years for the Lake Superior school district in Two Harbors. He has no criminal record. He testified in his own defense during the trial. He confidently told jurors that he sometimes gave kids hugs and wished them goodnight, and he sometimes grabbed them around the waist to keep them from falling in the bus stairwell, but said he didn't touch them sexually. The girls provided interviews to social workers and a St. Louis County Sheriff's investigator at First Witness Child Abuse Resource Center in which they said James touched them inappropriately. The girls also testified at trial.
Reached by phone at his home Friday, James said he felt relieved, "but it really hasn't sunk in yet," he said. "I had faith that justice would be held and I knew I didn't do it."
James said the support of members of his community helped him through the ordeal. "Not one person here ever said a word negatively; it was all positive," he said. "People were coming up to me and praying for me because they thought it was untrue."
Seven character witnesses from the Two Harbors' area, including his church pastor, testified on James' behalf at trial. They said he was a man of good character who has helped others and they never saw him act inappropriately toward children.
James was asked if he had any questions for his accusers. "No, I still care for those girls, I never denied that I did," he said. "They just mistook my intentions."
James was represented at trial by Cloquet defense attorney Joanna Wiegert. Wiegert praised her client for his apparent forthrightness and for how he stood up to the allegations against him.
"I think he handled it like a champ," she said. "This was an amazingly, inconceivably stressful, horrific thing. This client is an individual who raised his own children, is a founding member of his church and was involved with the youth group there while his children were growing up and he continued to be involved in it. These (James and his wife) are people who have reached out to youth in their community and done a lot of good things. For him to be accused of this particularly was devastating. It changed his life."
Wiegert was understanding of why it took the prosecution 2½ months to dismiss the case after jurors returned the not guilty and unable to decide verdicts.
"Dismissing criminal charges is always a hard decision for a prosecutor," she said. "These were serious allegations and they involved children. ... When children are making allegations of sexual misconduct by an adult, particularly one in a position of authority with frequent access to children, you have to do something. This puts the prosecutor in a complicated position. Mr. Stumme is a very thoughtful, bright guy. I don't think he does anything kneejerk."