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Pastor Lowers Amount In Arrest Lawsuit Clergyman Says He Was Falsely Accused Of Torching Church

A pastor who says he was falsely charged with setting his church on fire in an alleged insurance scam has offered to settle his $3 million claim against Okanogan County for half that amount.

The offer, submitted in a letter to county commissioners by attorney Michael Arch, says the county is liable and could be forced to pay far more than $1.5 million if the case goes to trial.

The settlement offer says authorities violated Gordon P. Hutchins’ civil rights in prosecuting him in the April fire that destroyed Winthrop’s United Methodist Church.

The claim contends prosecutors withheld evidence from Hutchins’ attorney, violated accepted procedures in criminal prosecutions and presented misleading and inaccurate affidavits in Superior Court, among other things.

County officials could not be reached for comment. A phone message left at the commission’s office Wednesday was not returned.

Hutchins was arrested last July and charged with first-degree arson. Prosecutors said he set the fire to raise $500,000 in insurance money.

He pleaded innocent and was supported by his congregation, which raised $50,000 to bail him out of jail following his arrest. Hutchins said he barely escaped the burning church by breaking an office window and crawling out.

The charge was dropped in August after a former Superior Court judge, acting as a special prosecutor, reviewed evidence and interviewed witnesses.

Arch’s letter to commissioners says the county “negligently investigated the Hutchins case, maliciously prosecuted Rev. Hutchins, defamed his name and professional reputation as a clergyman, and engaged in concerted conduct with private individuals to prosecute the reverend, thereby violating his civil rights.”

Arch asked commissioners to respond to the proposed settlement by Feb. 24.