Records show Othello School District’s evidence against embattled former coach

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File photo J.J. Martinez coaching at the 2017 state wrestling tournament.

OTHELLO — Former Othello High School girls wrestling coach Jacob Jermain “J.J.” Martinez shared a blanket with a student athlete during a wrestling trip and made deceptive statements about the incident during an investigation into his conduct, according to records from the Othello School District.

The accusations of misconduct against the coach first surfaced in mid-February, according to officials with the Othello School District, and Martinez was put on administrative leave pending an internal investigation.

Martinez resigned before that investigation could be completed, however, and the case was referred to the Othello Police Department for possible criminal charges. In late July, Adams County prosecutors declined to press charges, citing insufficient evidence.

After the prosecutor’s decision, the school district wrote in a statement that it stood by its decision to investigate Martinez and found that the former coach had “violated numerous school policies.” In documents obtained by the Columbia Basin Herald, investigators questioned Martinez about an incident involving a bus ride returning from a wrestling event on the west side of the state.

A video recording of a bus ride returning from the wrestling event reportedly shows Martinez and the student sitting next to each other and covering themselves with a blanket, according to a written description of the footage.

In the video, the student reportedly stroked Martinez’ face and Martinez pulled the student closer by placing his hand on her cheek. No explicitly sexual conduct was recorded on video, though the school’s investigator noted that the pair appeared to be shifting under the blanket and periodically looking over at others on the bus, according to the school’s review.

In an interview with Martinez, school investigator Pete Perez noted that when Martinez was asked if he and the student had ever shared a seat together on a bus trip, Martinez recalled two occasions but did not mention the trip under review. Further, when investigators asked if Martinez had ever shared a blanket with the student, he initially said he had not.

“Following that line of questioning JJ then said he recalled a 3rd time together,” wrote investigators. “He said it was due to the team traveling on a smaller bus and girls being doubled up.”

Martinez added that he sometimes would sit with students to review footage from wrestling tournaments, according to the transcripts.

Though Martinez declined to allow investigators to see text threads between himself and the student or see images stored on his phone, investigators did obtain a number of texts from the student’s phone.

“Just hope she doesn’t give you a real bad time when you get home then accuse you of anything,” Martinez wrote to the student. “You know I’d do anything for you.”

“It’s fine,” the student replied.

“No it’s not,” Martinez wrote back. “I don’t want you in trouble or them keeping us from doing stuff. Love taking you places.”

The Columbia Basin Herald made multiple attempts to contact Martinez and the law firm representing him. Neither responded to requests for comment before deadline.

Martinez has previously criticized the school’s handling of the accusations, saying that he did nothing wrong and that the school forced him to resign.

“Mr. Martinez was given an ultimatum by the school, resign or be terminated,” said the law firm representing Martinez in a press release. “This was after not only Mr. Martinez denied these allegations, but after the student in question denied these allegations and her own family stood by Mr. Martinez. Despite the support, Mr. Martinez decided out of necessity to resign.”

But Martinez’ interview with the school investigator showed that the former coach acknowledged that he did “see where it can be inappropriate,” and that, “Yes, I see lines crossed now,” according to transcripts.

Martinez described the student as “a daughter that I don’t have,” and denied having any sexual contact with her. However, he appeared to indicate that he had discussed the possibility of his behavior being found out with Athletic Director Jennifer McCourtie as early as last fall.

“I told Jenny back in the fall that this might come out,” the investigator wrote that Martinez had said.

McCourtie did not respond to a request for comment before deadline.

Emry Dinman can be reached via email at edinman@columbiabasinherald.com.

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