Sex abuse victim receives large settlement with Modesto church

By Erin Tracy
Modesto Bee
August 3, 2019

[with video]

Modesto’s CrossPoint Community Church settled a lawsuit with a woman who said the church covered up the sexual abuse of her and others by pastors for years.

CrossPoint, formerly First Baptist Church, must pay Jennifer Roach $267,500 and was released of any liability or wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

“Sexual abuse is soul-crushing, and its impact is far reaching,” Roach said in an email. “Victims often end up delaying or abandoning their education, which impacts their ability to earn throughout their lifetime. Financial settlements don’t change the fact that the abuse happened, but they can restore some of what was stolen from the victim.”

Roach brought the lawsuit last spring after sharing her story with The Bee of sexual abuse by then-youth pastor Brad Tebbutt beginning in the 1980s, when she was 14.

Tebbutt, then 27 and married, befriended Roach when her father died in a car accident, and took advantage of her sexually in his church office, his car and his home when she was a student at Beyer High in Modesto, Roach said. After he left town, she confided in church leaders who told her to forgive and forget and who did not advise authorities or her mother, she said.

CrossPoint’s lead pastor Matt Whiteford, who arrived in Modesto long after the alleged abuse, said in an email on Tuesday, “We wish the very best for Jennifer Roach. Our hope and prayer is that this conclusion will aid in her process of healing and wholeness.”

Tebbutt was originally named as a defendant in the lawsuit but later dropped when he agreed to cooperate with in the prosecution. In 2005 he wrote a lengthy letter to Roach apologizing for sexually abusing her.

CrossPoint’s San Francisco based-attorney said in a response to the lawsuit last year that Roach can blame any woes on her own “act, omission, fault, negligence or carelessness” and argued the case should be dismissed because the abuse occurred outside of California’s civil statutes of limitations.

Roach’s Sacramento-based attorney Joseph George argued that California’s insurance law requires victims be warned in writing of applicable statutes of limitation. That requirement should have been triggered when First Baptist arranged for another youth pastor to meet with Roach for a few counseling sessions in 1989, and when she attended group therapy at the church. But she never was so advised.

George said in a phone interview on Tuesday that he is pleased with the settlement.

“I am pleased that she is pleased,” he said. “Jennifer is a delightful woman, very articulate, very courageous. She is not shy of speaking out to other women ... and telling them not to suffer in silence.”

“Her case is unique because there are no real disputes about the facts,” George said. “Everyone agrees about what happens. He did it, they knew it, they didn’t do anything about it, they didn’t even notify her mother let alone law enforcement.”

He said the only sticking point was the statute of limitations which the judge very well could have sided with the defendants on.

Roach said if a settlement had not been reached in mediation prior to the September trial date, she probably would have dropped the case and waited for the likely passage of Assembly Bill 218.

The Bill, which passed in the Assembly in April, would expand the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse from age 26 to 40, and open a three-year window for the revival of past claims that might have expired due to the statute of limitations.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill last year but this year’s bill is far more likely to pass under Gov. Gavin Newsom, George said.

“Over the last year I have spoken with a dozen women who were sexually abused at CrossPoint from 1960 to 1990. None of those cases are public,” Roach said in the email. “All of them would be qualified to file suit under the new assembly bill.”

“I urge any victims from abuse at CrossPoint, or any other church, to gather up all the courage and strength they can muster, and take advantage of the new window that AB 218 will provide,” she said. “Asking for compensation is not being greedy, it is asking for what wrongfully (was) stolen from you.”

In addition to Roach’s story, The Bee reported that another former First Baptist youth pastor, Les Hughey, had sexual encounters with girls in his charge in the 1970s before moving on to churches in Arizona where his predatory behavior, outlined in a 100-page Scottsdale Police report, continued.

The Bee also reported that two male volunteers and a youth counselor were convicted of molesting boys in the the 1980s, before Roach was victimized.

When the stories broke last year, Tebbutt’s employer, International House of Prayer in Kansas City, placed Tebbutt on leave pending an independent investigation and Hughey resigned as senior pastor at an Arizona megachurch.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which received the case against Hughey in May, is still reviewing it to determine whether charges should be filed.

The International House of Prayer did not return request for comment on whether the investigation was completed or whether Tebbutt still holds a position at the church.

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