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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

SoCal Church Accused of Covering up Abuse

SANTA BARBARA (CN) - A Presbyterian youth pastor who also worked at a hotel sexually abused a teenager at church and in the hotel, and the church covered it up, the girl, now a woman, claims in court.

The woman sued Carpinteria Community Church and its corporate parents, including the Presbytery of Santa Barbara and the Presbyterian Church USA, a Holiday Inn Express, and Louis Bristol, in Santa Barbara Court.

Bristol, then 28, pleaded guilty in August 2013 to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, perpetrating lewd acts upon a child and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He was sentenced to 1 year in Santa Barbara County jail and 5 years probation, and will have to register as a sex offender during that period, according to local news reports.

The plaintiff's initial lawsuit, on Feb. 19, was short and somewhat vague. Her attorney Timothy Hale filed a 47-page amended complaint on March 3.

"We were just a bit rushed in getting her lawsuit filed as her statue of limitations was, arguably, about to expire," Hale, of Nye, Peabody, Stirling, Hale & Miller told Courthouse News. "We had to err on the side of caution and file when we did."

Hale asked that the plaintiff's name not be used to protect her privacy.

At the time of the abuse, Bristol worked at the Holiday Inn in Carpinteria and volunteered at Carpinteria Community Church as its youth pastor, according to the amended complaint.

The plaintiff, whom the complaint refers to as "Bristol victim #1," says she was 16 years old when Bristol "groomed [her] for sexual abuse and/or sexually abused her in the course and scope of the duties he performed on behalf of all defendants."

Church leaders knew that Bristol was sexually abusing her, but allowed him to continue working with children rather than report him to the police or warn church members about his predatory behavior, according to the complaint.

It continues: "As he would later do with Bristol victim #2 and #3, Bristol openly took Bristol victim #1 to one of his workplaces, defendant Holiday Inn. Although she was a minor and was not a registered hotel guest, defendant Holiday Inn took no action to stoop Bristol's conduct. He also sexually abused plaintiff during or after youth group meetings at defendant church. Defendant Bristol also exploited the counseling and mentor relationship he developed with plaintiff through his youth group leadership role - purporting to support and counsel her regarding her parents' divorce - to sexually abuse her at other locations away from defendant church, such as at religious retreats or conferences where he supervised defendant church's youth group members on behalf of defendant church."

Church leaders' failure to supervise and warn allowed Bristol to abuse two more girls from Carpinteria Community Church, according to the complaint.

"In or around the summer of 2012 a pastor at defendant church received another report of sexual misconduct by Bristol, this time directed toward Bristol victim #2. Specifically, in a text message Bristol described Bristol victim #2's breasts as beautiful. The pastor did not report Bristol to law enforcement or to child protective services. Instead, he told the young girl who made the report to tell Bristol, the perpetrator, about the accusation," the complaint states.

The plaintiff claims the defendants' failure to act allowed Bristol to rape victim #2 and victim #3.

"As a result of his exploitation of those trust relationships, defendant Bristol raped Bristol victim #2 at defendant Holiday Inn on December 29, 2012. Less than a week later he raped Bristol victim #2 again, and Bristol victim #3, in a guest room at defendant Holiday Inn," the complaint states.

Victims #2 and #3 are not parties to the amended complaint.

The plaintiff claims that the Presbyterian defendants had multiple opportunities to end the cycle of abuse, by reporting predators such as Bristol to law enforcement, and "by assisting in rather than obstructing criminal investigations such as those of defendant Bristol, and by warning the general public when a priest has been accused of sexually assaulting a child."

She claims that the church defendants instead tried to protect their "pedophilic members, and to protect their financial interests."

She seeks damages and punitive damages for childhood sexual abuse, sexual battery, public nuisance, negligent hiring, fraud and conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and other charges.

She also wants an injunction ordering the Presbyterian defendants to stop transferring sexual predators to new churches without warning them, among other things.

And she asks the court to order the Presbyterian defendants to identify all members accused of sexual abuse, the dates of the accusations and the dates and locations of the alleged abuses.

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