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$275,000 payout follows Loren Culp’s alleged mishandling of sexual-abuse case

Dec. 2, 2022 Updated Fri., Dec. 2, 2022 at 7:05 p.m.

Loren Culp waves to supporters at Rick’s Eatery in Moses Lake.  (Orion Donovan-Smith/The Spokesman-Review)
Loren Culp waves to supporters at Rick’s Eatery in Moses Lake. (Orion Donovan-Smith/The Spokesman-Review)
By Jim Brunner Seattle Times

A lawsuit accusing Loren Culp and other police of botching a child sexual-abuse investigation and trying to intimidate the victim has been settled, with Ferry County and the city of Republic agreeing to pay the victim $275,000.

The lawsuit, filed in 2017, alleged that Culp, then a Republic police officer, along with Ferry County sheriff’s Deputy Talon Venturo, failed to properly investigate allegations in 2013 by a 17-year-old girl who reported she’d been sexually molested by her stepfather since she was 5.

After the dropped probe in Ferry County, the Benton County Sheriff’s Office stepped in at the urging of the girl’s grandparents and swiftly obtained evidence to arrest Roy A. Moore Jr. on child rape, child molestation and incest charges.

Moore pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree child molestation in March 2015. He was sentenced to a minimum of 67 months in prison but was released in late 2019.

Culp, an unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor in 2020 and for Congress this year, was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, along with Venturo, Ferry County and the small town of Republic in northeast Washington.

In an interview this week, the lawsuit plaintiff, now 26, said she feels vindicated by the settlement, recalling she received numerous threats after news of her lawsuit broke during Culp’s gubernatorial campaign. (The Seattle Times typically does not name victims of sexual abuse.)

“It’s nice to be finally told that I wasn’t lying and that they were in the wrong,” she said, adding that she hopes the case will lead Ferry County and Republic to better handle cases involving rape and child molestation. “I believe they will make some changes. I didn’t want this to happen to another girl.”

In a statement this week, Culp contended he’d been vindicated, citing a court order that formally dismissed him as an individual defendant in the lawsuit in mid-November. He criticized the media for reporting on the case and political rivals for running ads highlighting it during his congressional run this year. Culp did not make it out of the August primary in the 4th Congressional District.

“After years of my name being dragged through the mud, I’m happy to have this cleared up and signed by a judge. Now, where do I go to get my reputation back?” Culp said in the statement, which did not mention the monetary settlement.

In a subsequent email Thursday, Culp said the case “was never intended to go to trial which I pushed for” and said it was delayed for years to extract a settlement “which apparently will do no more than pay the attorneys fees as usual.”

Bill Gilbert, the attorney for the plaintiff, said the $275,000 settlement was reached after mediation in the long-running case, and disputed Culp’s characterization.

“Mr. Culp was not vindicated whatsoever by this dismissal,” Gilbert said in an email. “The case settled. Which means the defendants paid … a sizeable sum of money in exchange for a release and dismissal. Making a public statement that he was somehow vindicated by the resolution of the case is disingenuous, at best.”

Michael McFarland, an attorney for Ferry County and Venturo, said in an email that Venturo “was dismissed from the lawsuit and then Ferry County settled with (the plaintiff).”

The Nov. 23 settlement agreement states that it was reached as a compromise “of a disputed claim” and did not constitute “an admission of liability on the part of the Defendants.”

Culp has repeatedly downplayed his role in the sexual-abuse investigation and previously said that Moore’s guilty plea doesn’t mean he’d actually committed a crime.

“I conducted multiple child abuse investigations in my career and ALL of them were handled professionally from start to finish but no one wants to look into those including YOU which is very telling. I received the key to the city for the excellent work I did,” Culp wrote in his email.

According to the lawsuit, filed initially in Lincoln County and then moved to Ferry County Superior Court, the then-17-year-old girl reported in November 2013 that Moore had been sexually molesting her for 12 years. She initially reported the abuse to Matthew Beard, a 23-year-old reserve Republic police officer, whom she had been dating.

Beard, who was also named in the lawsuit, did not immediately report the allegation to his law enforcement superiors or state child-welfare authorities, as required by law, the lawsuit stated. Instead, he spoke to the girl’s mother.

The case was chiefly investigated by Venturo, who obtained a search warrant. He provided the victim’s mother with a digital recorder to conceal in an effort to obtain a confession from Moore – an effort that did not succeed.

Meanwhile, the teen was sent to stay the night at Beard’s home, who, according to the lawsuit, “took advantage of the distraught and vulnerable 17-year-old, and ultimately engaged in sexual relations with her.” In a court filing, an attorney representing Beard acknowledged the girl went to his home, but denied they had sex.

Venturo interviewed Moore and brought Culp along to interview his stepdaughter, falsely telling her that her stepfather had been jailed and that they needed more information to hold him, according to court filings and public records.

By that time, according to a legal filing by Gilbert last year, the two officers “had already made up their minds” that the girl was lying.

During their questioning of the girl, Culp asked her what should happen to her stepfather. She replied “he needs to be punished” for “a long time,” according to a transcript of the Nov. 21, 2013, interview.

Culp followed up: “Do you think that somebody that does something like this deserves a second chance?”

“No,” she replied.

Later, Culp asked if the girl would “make anything like this up?”

“No, no way,” she responded.

Culp wrote in a Jan. 8, 2014, police report that he and Venturo believed Moore’s denials and that the girl “was not being truthful,” in part because she shuffled her feet and would sometimes lose eye contact when being questioned by the two officers.

Culp also wrote that he’d had experience with female teenagers making false allegations of molestation against their fathers “in order to get out from under their control.”

According to the lawsuit, the girl was warned by Culp and Venturo that she could be prosecuted for false reporting.

The pair of officers later came to a court hearing when the teen sought a protective order to prevent her stepfather from having any contact with her. They sat immediately behind the 17-year-old, “intentionally intimidating her,” Gilbert wrote in a court filing last year.

Venturo was later reprimanded for showing up at the hearing, which he had not been subpoenaed to appear at, according to a copy of the official reprimand, which also faulted several other elements of his handling of the case.

After the girl’s grandparents stepped in and alerted authorities in Benton County, the response, in contrast with Ferry County, “was professional and courteous,” Gilbert wrote in a summary judgment motion opposing defense efforts to dismiss the case last year.

The girl was referred to a victim advocate and a therapist, and was sent to Spokane for a formal interview conducted by a professional sex-crimes investigator.

“Unlike Venturo and Culp, these highly trained professionals all believed and supported (the victim),” Gilbert wrote.

Her stepfather was arrested within weeks.

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