Santa Barbara County Settles Sexting Claim for $30,000

County Counsel: County agreed to settlement without admitting liability

Former under sheriff settles out of court

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - During a closed-door session Tuesday, Santa Barbara County supervisors chose to spend $30,000 to settle a claim involving a sexting scandal implicating the former Santa Barbara County undersheriff. The claim sought in excess of $10,000.

The scandal went public November 15, 2013 when Valerie Walston filed a claim alleging sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, assault, battery, blackballing and emotional distress involving now-retired Undersheriff Jim Peterson.

The Sheriff's Department has declined comment, referring inquiries to the Santa Barbara County Counsel's office.  Peterson and Walston have not responded to requests for comment.  

The legal document filed in November was filled with lurid details of a relationship that went from cordial to sexual.

Walston said the relationship cost her a volunteer job she loved as the public information officer for the county's search and rescue team (SAR).  She also claimed it destroyed her hopes for a similar post with the sheriff's department.

At a SAR dinner last November, Walston said she broke down in tears after Peterson told her she did not get the public information officer position she had applied to with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office.  She said she emailed him to apologize for crying.

More than 11,500 text messages between them followed.  Between December 8, 2012 and January 25, 2013, she said she met with Peterson in a parking lot on Hope Street three times.

On New Year's Eve, she said, they shared mimosas in her car.  Walston said she felt she had no choice but to comply with his requests for sexual contact a few weeks later.

Inspired by the dominance/submission book "Fifty Shades of Grey," Walston claims he wanted to use the character names Christian and Anastasia and have a safe word or phrase.  She said they chose the sheriff's name, Bill Brown, to be used when a line was crossed.

Walston claims they kissed, fondled and groped in the back seats of both her car and his.  The claim did not describe his car, but at the time of the alleged incidents, it was considered standard procedure for command staff members such as Peterson to drive a county-owned unmarked sheriff's vehicle.

Walston claims Peterson made job-related promises.

She said in April she met him in a hotel suite he had during an undersheriff's conference. 

Walston said she had a boyfriend at the time and that Peterson was married, but claimed he had an agreement with his wife.

Walston also showed nude photos of Peterson to Sgt. Sandra Brown, a sheriff's candidate, who said it was her duty to report it.

Peterson announced his retirement without explanation.  Since he was not fired, his $80,000-a-year pension is protected.

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