‘We are not stalling’: Othello PD Chief on investigation of embattled wrestling coach

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OTHELLO — The Othello Police Department is not stalling on its investigation into allegations that the local high school girl’s wrestling coach had a sexual relationship with a student, OPD Chief Phil Schenck said in a recent interview, rejecting a statement made by the coach’s attorney.

In a statement to the media, the attorney representing Jacob Jermain “JJ” Martinez, former girl’s wrestling coach for Othello High School, categorically denied that Martinez had sexual contact of any kind with the student, and claimed that the Othello Police Department was stalling completion of its investigation.

“While law enforcement states its investigation is ‘ongoing,’ there is nothing further to investigate. Mr. Martinez himself, the student’s family, and the student in question have all completely denied that anything inappropriate has happened,” wrote Deric Orr, Martinez’s attorney, in the statement. “The idea that the investigation is ‘ongoing’ is simply code for stalling.”

But Schenck took umbrage with that characterization of his agency’s handling of the case in an interview with the Columbia Basin Herald, and said that the department’s detective is actively working on the case.

“We’re not stalling,” Schenck said. “We aren’t conducting an administrative investigation, we’re conducting a criminal investigation. These kinds of cases are not simple.”

Orr clarified his statement in an interview with the Herald.

“You don’t have an alleged victim, you don’t have a confession, you have people who are closest to her that are saying nothing happened,” Orr said. “I’ve been doing this for awhile, and I understand that often they’ll say they’re actively investigating, but I feel like those are kind of three big pillars not to have.”

Though the department doesn’t have a confession on which to base its case, Schenck said some amount of the delay in the investigation’s conclusion has come from a lack of cooperation from Martinez, who Schenck said has declined to speak with law enforcement regarding the case.

“In this case, his attorneys have instructed him not to talk to us,” Schenck said. “A lot of times like this, it comes down to a swearing contest — who do we believe? Is someone being cooperative or not? We’re not convinced yet that we’re seeing Martinez be cooperative.”

Further, though Orr stated in the press release to media that the firm had provided results from a polygraph test of Martinez denying the allegations, which “solidly indicates that he was not attempting deception,” Schenck said they have yet to see the data behind the results.

Though Schenck said he was confident that his department would conclude the investigation in the coming weeks, he could not indicate whether charges are expected.

The conflict with investigating officers comes months after Martinez resigned in March, following an internal investigation into the allegations, during which Orr claimed that Martinez was railroaded into his resignation.

“Mr. Martinez was given an ultimatum by the school, resign or be terminated,” Orr wrote in the statement. “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.”

Despite the strong rebuke of the school’s handling of the case, Orr said that his client isn’t ready to commit to a decision on whether to seek damages.

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