Crime

He often was the face of a Benton fire district. He hid a child porn habit

Jeffrey K. Ripley pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Richland to possessing child pornography. The former captain with Benton County Fire District 1 faces three years in federal prison.
Jeffrey K. Ripley pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Richland to possessing child pornography. The former captain with Benton County Fire District 1 faces three years in federal prison. Tri-City Herald

A former Benton County fire captain took responsibility for child pornography on his personal computer, even though he said he doesn’t recall the sexually explicit images.

Jeffrey K. Ripley pleaded guilty this week in U.S. District Court to one count of possessing child porn.

Investigators found 46 images of known child pornography on Ripley’s computer equipment, along with bookmarked websites referencing young boys, court documents show.

During a 30-minute hearing before Senior Judge Ed Shea in the Richland Federal Building, Ripley said it is accurate that he kept pictures of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

“I fail to recall those images … but they were on my hard drive and I accept that fact,” Ripley said.

Shea — who called it “a difficult day” for Ripley — later asked him: “Are you pleading guilty because you truly are guilty?”

“Yes. Yes, sir,” he replied.

Ripley was with Benton County Fire District 1 for 25 years, sometimes serving as its public spokesman. He was eligible for retirement the summer of 2016 and resigned his position as a paid employee with the rural fire district in southeast Benton County.

ICAC

Law enforcement went to Ripley’s home on June 1, 2016, to talk about his internet activity. A Craigslist ad posted by Ripley and his dialog with a person who responded caught the attention of authorities, though it reportedly didn’t rise to the level of a search warrant.

Members of the Southeast Regional Internet Crimes Against Children task force were invited into his home. When asked if he knew the reason for their visit, Ripley acknowledged it likely was for what he’d been doing online, court documents said.

Ripley waived his rights and agreed to talk, then signed a form giving police permission to do an electronic preview of his devices.

Asked about his pornography habits, Ripley indicated he looked at both male and female adults but said “underage things” just “pop up” on his screen, documents said.

A detective found multiple pictures with young kids in various stages of undress, some performing sex acts.

Ripley, asked why he saved pornographic images clearly showing children under age 10, said, “That is a good question. I didn’t have any sexual interest in them … I don’t know, maybe curiosity if nothing else.”

Ripley said all of the images were downloaded from the internet, according to court documents.

I didn’t have any sexual interest in them … I don’t know, maybe curiosity if nothing else.

Jeffrey K. Ripley, convicted of possessing child porn

Investigators noted that Ripley had wiping software and file-sharing software on his machine, documents said.

An additional 712 images were discovered. The subjects were listed as “age difficult” and couldn’t be confirmed as children, so federal prosecutors didn’t include those images in their case.

Attorney Kevin Holt told the court he’s been in plea negotiations since the case was filed last spring, and has spent about six hours going over the resolution details with his client.

Ripley faces three years in prison, though Shea can reject the terms of the plea agreement and order time either above or below the recommended sentence. If he does that, either side can withdraw the plea and go to trial.

A charge for receipt of child porn will be dismissed at sentencing in June.

Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531, @KristinMKraemer

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