Child rape case reduced to misdemeanor for Custer man

A Custer man accused of raping a girl was allowed to plead guilty to a gross misdemeanor in part because of problems with a Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office investigation of the crime.

Charging papers allege Benjamin Ross Cramlet, 26, had sexual contact with a girl in November 2012, when he was staying at her family's home.

She was younger than 16. He was 22.

She reported to police that they were together in Cramlet’s guest room when he pulled her pants down. He then had sexual intercourse with the girl as she repeatedly said “no,” according to charging papers.

Eventually the girl pushed Cramlet away and she left the room, she reported.

A week later they exchanged emails where he mentioned being her “first.” The incident was reported to the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office another month later. A formal charge of third-degree rape, a felony, was filed in June 2014.

Cramlet pleaded guilty to communicating with a minor for immoral purposes after a plea bargain in Whatcom County Superior Court on Tuesday, May 16. The charge is a gross misdemeanor.

Cramlet was sentenced May 17 to 30 days behind bars, and another 30 of community service.

Cramlet’s private attorney, Wendy Harper, tried to have the case dismissed in a motion filed in November 2015. She argued that there were flaws in the state’s investigation: Email records were incomplete and not properly preserved, she wrote, and the lead sheriff's detective, Julie Baker, did not record audio of key interviews with the girl. Baker, a veteran sheriff's deputy, had become a detective about two weeks before the investigation.

Though the motion was ultimately denied by a judge, the issues it outlined were part of the reason why Cramlet was offered a reduced charge, said Jonathan Richardson, the deputy prosecutor.

“The issues in the motion, I would say it factored into the decision,” Richardson said, but he added that he didn’t believe Baker had made any mistakes during her investigation.

Though the charge isn’t a felony, it still requires Cramlet to register as a sex offender, which had been a priority for the prosecution, Richardson said.

Cramlet was also a nursing student at Linn-Benton Community College in Albany, Oregon. Ensuring he could never work as a nurse, Richardson added, was another goal.

Oregon State Board of Nursing records show Cramlet withdrew his application to become a registered nurse last year for conduct the board said was “derogatory to the standards of nursing.”

“Convictions are never guaranteed at trial,” Richardson said, “and we felt the priority was to have him registered and not nursing.”

Richardson said in court May 17 that after talking with the girl and her father, both were content with the outcome of the case.

Despite the issues with the investigation cited by the defense, Undersheriff Jeff Parks said the sheriff’s office had no plans to change any policies or procedures. He also noted that the prosecution took exception to each of the issues called out by the defense in the motion to dismiss.

“Certainly with a brand-new detective, there’s always going to be a learning curve. In almost every investigation, 20/20 hindsight, you can look back and say that perhaps something should have been done there,” Parks said after looking through the case documents. “I didn’t see anything in there that was a fatal error.”

Kyle Mittan: 360-756-2803, @KyleMittan