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Pastor who sexually preyed on girl now helps her case against prominent Modesto church

Jennifer Roach outside CrossPoint Community Church in Modesto, Calif., Thursday, May 31, 2018. Roach was sexually abused by a youth pastor many years ago as a teenager at the church which was formerly First Baptist.
Jennifer Roach outside CrossPoint Community Church in Modesto, Calif., Thursday, May 31, 2018. Roach was sexually abused by a youth pastor many years ago as a teenager at the church which was formerly First Baptist. aalfaro@modbee.com

A former youth pastor who sexually abused a girl three decades ago is cooperating now with her attorneys in a lawsuit against Modesto’s CrossPoint Church, formerly First Baptist Church.

In return for his help, Brad Tebbutt was dropped as a defendant in the lawsuit brought by Jennifer Roach, now 47 and living in Washington state.

“During the course of discovery, Jennifer realized that Brad did make a genuine apology and she has genuinely forgiven him. And, he has cooperated with the litigation,” her Sacramento lawyer, Joseph George, said Friday in a telephone interview.

“By contrast, the discovery underscores that First Baptist and its leaders had a pattern and practice of striving to avoid scandal and any negative publicity whatsoever, and handling anything in house, with Tebbutt and others,” George said.

CrossPoint’s pastor and San Francisco attorneys did not respond Friday to email requests for comment.

The church filed a response to the lawsuit in September denying responsibility and saying Roach can blame any woes on her own “act, omission, fault, negligence or carelessness.” A judge also should dismiss the case by reason of California’s civil statutes of limitations, the response says; such statutes in criminal law prevent Tebbutt from being prosecuted.

In addition to Roach’s story, The Modesto Bee earlier this year reported that then-youth pastor Les Hughey had sexual encounters with girls in his charge at First Baptist in the 1970s, and that two male volunteers, Bob Chapman and George Austin, separately molested several boys they met and worked with at First Baptist in the mid-1980s, before Roach was victimized.

Since those articles appeared, The Bee determined that Dave Alan Lewis was convicted of molesting a 13-year-old boy while working as a youth counselor at First Baptist’s summer camp near Pinecrest in 1981. He later worked with youth at another Modesto church and drove school buses for a Christian school and for Modesto City Schools, and was convicted in 1985 of molesting another 13-year-old boy he met at Big Valley Grace Community Church in Modesto.

Tebbutt befriended Roach when she lost her father. The youth pastor had sex with her for 2 1/2 years, starting when he was 27 and she was 15. He then went on to a 30-year youth ministry with churches and church schools in Oregon and Missouri. His last-known employer, International House of Prayer in Kansas City, placed Tebbutt, now 59, on leave after The Bee’s report in February, and commissioned an investigation by a third party with expertise in clergy abuse.

Hughey resigned as senior pastor at an Arizona megachurch in the wake of The Bee’s report in April. He remains under investigation, Scottsdale police said Thursday.

Chapman and Austin served jail and prison terms of 300 days and 28 years, respectively.

Roach filed the lawsuit in late May in San Francisco, where some offenses allegedly occurred. CrossPoint lead pastor Matt Whiteford sent a letter in August to members acknowledging Bee coverage. The church’s “journey ... elicits compassion for those hurting, confusion for those who feel broken trust, and even some self-reflection on where we are now as a church,” the letter said. An unnamed third party was retained “to review all that we currently do and to give their recommendations for continued improvement,” the letter said.

On Sept. 30, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed Assembly Bill 3120, which had been passed by state legislators and would have expanded the window that survivors of childhood sexual abuse have to file lawsuits. “Even though valid and profoundly important claims are at stake, all jurisdictions have seen fit to bar actions after a lapse of years,” Brown said in a letter to Assembly members, citing English common law dating to 1623 and other statutes in the Roman Empire before. The issue is “one of fairness,” he said, noting that he also vetoed a similar bill five years earlier.

“It’s outrageous that someone who was sexually assaulted as a child can actually run out of time to seek justice before they’re ready to come forward and tell their story,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, said in a release when she introduced the bill in February. “We’ve seen in case after case that survivors might need decades before they’re prepared to hold their abusers accountable. They should have all the time they need.”

The average age of reporting childhood sexual abuse is 52, according to CHILD USA, a group advocating for longer statutes of limitations.

Victims wait decades, or never report being sexually assaulted, for many reasons including self-blame and failing to recognize abuse as criminal, according to research compiled by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

Two days after the Nov. 6 midterm elections, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra launched a drive to gather information from anyone who believes he or she was sexually mistreated by clergy. His office asks people to fill out an online complaint or to email ClergyAbuse@doj.ca.gov.

Decades ago, First Baptist was well aware it had a problem with some predatory adults, but “failed to implement reasonable safeguards” to prevent Tebbutt from inducing the girl into sexual encounters, Roach’s lawsuit says.

It seeks a civil remedy based on California insurance law requiring that 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, the lawsuit says.

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