Loren Culp, the Republican gubernatorial candidate and police chief of Republic, Ferry County, is accused in a lawsuit of botching a child sexual-abuse investigation and intimidating the victim with threats of a false-claims charge.
The lawsuit, filed in 2017, alleges Culp and two other law enforcement officers failed to properly investigate and report to state authorities allegations in 2013 from a 17-year-old girl who said a male relative had been sexually molesting her since she was 5.
After the abortive investigation in Ferry County, the Benton County Sheriff’s Office stepped in with its own criminal probe, leading swiftly to the arrest of Roy A. Moore Jr. in 2014 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 on Dec. 19, 2019, according to the state Department of Corrections (DOC). Now 57, Moore will remain under DOC supervision as a sex offender for life.
The victim, now 23, said in an interview with The Seattle Times she is suing to make sure Culp and other officers and agencies involved are held accountable for failing to properly investigate her abuser, putting her through severe emotional trauma.
“It’s going happen to somebody else if they don’t pay for what they have done,” she said in an interview this week. “He [the abuser] was guilty … and it’s like it wasn’t important. It didn’t matter what was going on with me.”
The Seattle Times generally does not name victims of sexual abuse.
In interviews, Culp denied the lawsuit’s allegations and emphasized he was not in charge of the abuse investigation. He expressed no misgivings and denied that Moore’s guilty plea proves he committed a crime.
“He had a son, so he didn’t want to spend 30 years in prison. He took the plea deal. Not everyone who takes a plea deal is actually guilty,” Culp said.
A police report written by Culp in 2014 stated he believed Moore and thought the allegations by the 17-year-old were “made up.”
In pleading guilty a year later, Moore signed a statement declaring he had touched the victim’s vagina on two separate occasions “with sexual motivation, when she was under 12 years old,” court records show. The victim says the abuse went well beyond those instances and was ongoing for years.
According to the lawsuit, a second girl also came forward to Benton County sheriff’s deputies to say she had been sexually molested and raped by Moore. No charges were filed.
Culp said that it was unfair to focus on the single case and not his 10-year law enforcement career. “I have put a lot of child molesters in prison,” he said.
An Army veteran and former small construction business owner, Culp is one of several Republicans competing in the Aug. 4 primary for a chance to face Gov. Jay Inslee in November. He has raised more than $650,000 — the most of any GOP gubernatorial candidate apart from former Bothell Mayor Joshua Freed.
Culp also has attracted hundreds at campaign rallies, and thousands to his regular online chats. Yard signs in support of his campaign have sprouted in rural areas across the state.
As police chief of Republic, a north-central Washington town of about 1,100, Culp made headlines when he declared he would not enforce Initiative 1639, the 2018 voter-approved gun-control measure which raised the age to buy semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21 and imposed other new gun restrictions.
Culp’s defiance of the law, which he views as unconstitutional, made him a celebrity among conservatives and gun-rights activists and led to appearances on Fox News.
The investigation by Culp and others of Moore’s abuse was slipshod and amounted to an effort “to sweep it under the rug,” said Bill Gilbert, the Spokane attorney representing the victim.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for “extreme and outrageous conduct,” and Gilbert said his client also wants to force changes in how sexual abuse cases are investigated in Ferry County.
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 made the initial report to Matthew Beard, a 23-year-old reserve Republic police officer, whom she had been dating.
Beard, who is 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 states. Instead, days later he spoke to the girl’s mother.
The case was investigated by Ferry County sheriff’s Deputy Talon Venturo, who was assisted by Culp, according to the lawsuit. Both men were “very good friends” with Beard and Beard also knew her mother well, according to the victim.
Obtaining a search warrant, Venturo provided the victim’s mother with a digital recorder to conceal in an effort to obtain a confession from Moore.
The teen was sent to stay the night at Beard’s home, and the lawsuit states that he “took advantage of the distraught and vulnerable 17-year-old, and ultimately engaged in sexual relations with her.” In a court filing, an attorney for Beard acknowledged the girl went to his residence, but denied they had sex.
The effort to get a confession out of Moore did not succeed, and after interviewing him, Venturo and Culp “formed the opinion that Roy Moore was telling the truth — and [the victim] was lying,” the lawsuit alleges.
Venturo and Culp interviewed the victim on Nov. 21, 2013, asking her “disturbing questions about her personal life, sex life and home life” and asking her to provide detailed descriptions of sexual acts with Moore, according to the lawsuit and police reports.
At the conclusion of the interview, the officers confronted the teen, saying she “may be prosecuted for making a false report,” the lawsuit states.
Culp filed a police report more than a month after the interview, on Jan. 8, 2014, writing that he felt the teen “was not being truthful” because she had shifted in her seat, shuffled her feet and did not always make eye contact.
Based on that, and what he said were inconsistencies in her story, Culp wrote that he and Venturo “felt strongly that the allegations were made up and the decision was made to not make an arrest.”
The written reports by Culp and Venturo were filed only after the victim’s grandparents got involved. They contacted the Ferry County prosecutor and then sought help from the Sheriff’s Office in Benton County, where some of the abuse had taken place, according to Gilbert and the victim’s grandparents, who took her in as she became estranged from her mother.
Neither Culp nor Venturo notified state child-welfare authorities of the abuse allegation against Moore, as required by law, according to the lawsuit.
In addition, when the victim sought a protection order against Moore in January 2014, Culp and Venturo showed up at the court hearing and sat directly behind her in what she says was an effort at intimidation.
Culp acknowledges participating in the interview of the teen, but said he never threatened or sought to intimidate her.
“Absolutely not,” he said. He blamed attention to the lawsuit on a whisper campaign by supporters of his political rivals.
“Anybody can say anything they want in a lawsuit,” Culp said. “Just because someone says something doesn’t mean it’s the truth.”
An attorney representing the city of Republic and Culp did not respond to a request for comment. In a legal filing, the attorney acknowledged Moore’s guilty plea but denied the accusations against Culp, called the complaint “legally frivolous” and argued Culp and the city are legally immune.
Venturo, now a sergeant with the Ferry County sheriff’s office, did not respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday. In a court filing, an attorney representing Ferry County generally denied the allegations in the lawsuit.
The victim said the way she was treated by Culp and other officers still leaves her with major distrust of police. Lately, she’s seen “Culp for Governor” signs sprouting in her neighbors’ yards, and his campaign rhetoric that emphasizes protecting individual rights.
“I am like, are you kidding me? If you can’t defend a 17-year-old, how do you defend Washington?” she said.