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Governor candidate Culp named in lawsuit over disputed traffic case

UPDATED: Wed., Aug. 26, 2020

Loren Culp, right, Washington state Republican gubernatorial candidate, waits while a young girl chooses a backpack from hundreds on display Aug. 12 in the parking lot of the Spokane Fair and Expo Center. He was named in a recent lawsuit stemming from a traffic check in Republic, where Culp is the police chief.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
Loren Culp, right, Washington state Republican gubernatorial candidate, waits while a young girl chooses a backpack from hundreds on display Aug. 12 in the parking lot of the Spokane Fair and Expo Center. He was named in a recent lawsuit stemming from a traffic check in Republic, where Culp is the police chief. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

Republic Police Chief Loren Culp, the GOP candidate for governor, was named in a federal lawsuit that claims a Montana woman’s rights were violated when she was detained and charged after a traffic check in 2018.

In action filed last week in U.S. District Court in Spokane, Wendy Farris, 51, is suing Culp, who conducted a K-9 search of her vehicle, along with Ferry County Sheriff’s Deputy Christine Clark and the two law enforcement agencies. Farris also has filed a tort claim against Ferry County for $1.1 million over the incident.

Her attorney, Eric Fong, contends the lawsuit is in line with ongoing discussions around the country about the proper role of policing.

“This case is about a system that is sucking our society dry,” said Fong, of Port Orchard, Washington.

Although Culp is the defendant named first in the lawsuit, his role in the incident was secondary. He and the police department’s drug-sniffing dog were called in to determine whether there were drugs in Farris’s car after Clark suspected her of driving under the influence.

Asked why Culp is named first, Fong said that wasn’t intentional but was “probably because his name is everywhere” on campaign signs.

“If he’s going to run for governor on a platform of individual liberty, he should protect those,” Fong added before insisting it wasn’t about Culp or an attempt to hurt him politically.

The Culp campaign referred a request for comment to the city of Republic. Scott DeTro, the Republic city attorney, said he had just returned from vacation and wasn’t aware of the case. Ferry County Prosecutor Kathryn Burke said she could find no record of the lawsuit being served yet on any county agency. The separate tort claim has been referred to the county’s insurance risk pool.

While on an extended trip, Farris had driven with a friend from Republic to California and back over a few days in August 2018 to help pick up the friend’s daughter, the lawsuit says. After dropping the friend and her daughter off in Republic, she decided to drive to Oregon to keep a family commitment, even though she was exhausted , the suit says.

Soon after leaving Republic, she was so tired she decided to pull off the road, turn off the car and go to sleep, the suit says. She was later awakened by Clark, who had been called to check on the vehicle after someone reported it parked near the road with someone inside.

Farris was disoriented when awakened from a sound sleep by Clark’s knocking on the window, the suit says. Clark asked if she had been drinking or taking drugs; Farris said she hadn’t and was just tired so she pulled over to take a nap.

Clark told Farris to step out of the car, frisked her and asked again about alcohol or drugs. Farris asked to be tested, the suit says, but Clark declined at that point. An ambulance crew that had been called examined her and said there was nothing physically wrong. Clark asked her to take field sobriety tests, which she believed she passed but the deputy said she failed. Farris was placed under arrest.

Clark called Culp and his dog to search the car for drugs. The dog circled the car once without alerting, but on the second time around it stopped at a spot that Culp had touched with a hand that previously held the dog’s scent toy, the suit says, contending the dog’s signaling for drugs was manipulated. The car was searched and no drugs were found, but officers did find about $5,000 in cash, which Farris says she had for the trip. The car was impounded and “ripped apart” to find drugs, but none were found.

Farris was booked into jail, charged with driving under the influence, initially declined a blood alcohol content tests until her attorney arrived, and later went to a clinic where the test was negative.

She remained in jail over the weekend and had a hearing on the DUI charge, which was dropped while the blood test results were pending.

A notice of her refusal to take the BAC test in jail was forwarded to the state Department of Licensing, and her license was suspended for a year. She wasn’t informed of the suspension until after the deadline had passed to contest it. She was charged again with DUI, which was dismissed again after she made the trip from Montana to Republic, the suit says

Farris suffered “economic damages, emotional distress and other damages in an amount to be fully set forth at trial.”

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