The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma reportedly agreed to implement steps to improve the safety of thousands of youth attending annual summer camps in a confidential settlement of a lawsuit involving the rape of a 13-year-old girl.
The Oklahoman newspaper reported Aug. 5 that unspecified safety changes at Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center were part of a settlement finalized in July ending a lawsuit accusing the 1,700-church state affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention of negligence.
Among other things, the lawsuit filed in March 2017 accused the state convention of failure to properly vet adult volunteers accompanying more than 50,000 youth that each summer attend weeklong youth camps directed by BGCO youth ministry staff.
One such volunteer, 37-year-old Benjamin Petty, pleaded guilty in January to first-degree rape of a teenager identified in court documents as Jane Doe inside a cabin at Falls Creek in June 2016.
Petty was brought to camp as a volunteer cook by Country Estates Baptist Church in Midwest City, Oklahoma. The girl was part of a youth group from First Baptist Church in Terrell, Texas, which shared a cabin with the group from Country Estates.
The lawsuit claimed that no one acted to ensure that Petty was an appropriate youth volunteer before bringing him to camp. After arriving at Falls Creek, the suit claimed, Petty “utilized textbook pedophile/sexual predator tactics” to groom the adolescent for three days prior to the attack, while onlookers failed to intervene.
Oklahoma County District Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons approved a settlement June 28 ending all claims against the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, Country Estates Baptist Church and First Baptist Church in Terrell. The case was closed July 5, and most of the records, including terms of the settlement, were sealed.
Petty’s conviction sparked outrage when the judge presiding over the criminal case approved a plea bargain that included no time in prison. The prosecutor in the case resigned, and more than 100,000 people signed an online petition calling for the judge’s removal.
Despite the outcry, Marshall County District Judge Wallace Coppedge filed for a third term in April. He will appear unopposed on the ballot, just as he did when he was elected in 2010 and four years later, when no one else filed for the office.