By Jason Riley and Marcus Green

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A local judge has repeatedly complained that a high-ranking Jefferson County Sheriff's deputy was sending offensive and sexually explicit messages to her from his personal and government email accounts.

But two years after District Judge Stephanie Burke first raised concerns about the conduct of Major Gerald Bates, there is no evidence Jefferson County Sheriff John Aubrey took any action, including launching an investigation.

Burke said in a statement Monday that she first met with Aubrey in May 2013 to discuss Bates, a member of the sheriff's command staff. Burke alleges Bates was sending “salacious” emails to her and others, including other deputies.

WDRB obtained copies of several of Bates' emails. They include, for example, a March 2013 email from his department account, forwarded to deputies under his command, titled, “Very Brave Man Jokes.” Among the jokes: “Why is the space between a woman's breasts and her hips called a waist? Because you could easily fit another pair of t--- in there.”

Burke contends the “harassing” emails and text messages actions briefly stopped but resumed in 2014, and in June of last year she asked her attorney, Thomas E. Clay, to write to Aubrey about her concerns. Clay delivered the 2014 letter to the sheriff's office – in an envelope with Aubrey's name and marked “Confidential.”

“Despite your assurance that you would address the problem, the texts continued,” Clay wrote in the letter obtained by WDRB.

Burke said Clay later met with Aubrey and turned over several inappropriate emails Bates sent to the judge and deputies in her court during work hours.  Dozens of pornographic pictures were included in the emails.

Aubrey, through a spokesman, declined an interview request and did not answer emailed questions sent last week asking whether he received Clay's letter and how he responded to the judge's complaints against Bates.

No “formal complaint” has been filed, said Lt. Col. Carl Yates, spokesman for the sheriff's office. The department conducted an “administrative review” in response to recent public records requests, but the review found no evidence of the letter or any documents, including emails, related to Burke's allegations, Yates said.

As for the letter that Clay delivered explaining Burke's allegations, Yates said it may have been received by the department's former second-in-command, Lt. Col. Mike Hettich, who apparently committed suicide last October.

“(Internal affairs) looked high and low because the sheriff wanted to know about the letter once he was aware, once he was told that there was such a letter,” Yates said. “What may have happened, we thought, is that it was left with Chief (Mike) Hettich because this would have been before his death.”

Yates said the letter wasn't found among Hettich's personal effects. “Nobody here has it,” Yates said.

“I haven't seen it. The sheriff hasn't seen it."

Bates, for his part, denies any wrongdoing.

No records exists

In the summer of 2014, a month after a second meeting with Aubrey, the judge and Clay met again with the sheriff to reiterate their “ongoing concerns,” Burke's statement says.

Burke said she has received no response from Aubrey or been told of the results of any investigation into Bates' conduct.

In March, WDRB obtained Clay's letter and dozens of pages of emails sent from Bates' email accounts to the judge and other deputies.

In an April 15 response to WDRB's request under the Kentucky Open Records Act, Aubrey's office found no record of the letter or any investigation of Bates, who is in charge of court security. 

The department provided no complaints against Bates; no emails sent to the judge from his department account; or any other records showing Burke had sought Aubrey's help. Bates, who was hired in 1994 as a deputy, has numerous commendation letters and no disciplinary incidents in his personnel file.

Asked if Aubrey met with the judge, Yates said the sheriff meets with a number of judges and attorneys over the course of a year about “security issues, about other concerns they have. And those meetings are confidential. He is not going to acknowledge those meetings and what took place because they don't want them acknowledged.”

Burke alleges in her statement that Aubrey took notes during her initial meeting with the sheriff on May 17, 2013, in which she said she raised concerns about Bates. According to the judge's account, Aubrey told Burke he would address the issue but she heard nothing more.

As to whether Aubrey took any notes during the meeting, Yates said, “He wouldn't take notes. These are verbal conversations.”

Earlier this month, WDRB told the Jefferson County Attorney's Office about Clay's letter and asked for a second review of any relevant documents. A subsequent search found no evidence of the letter or other correspondence.

The Kentucky Archives and Records Commission urges local agencies, such as sheriff's departments, to immediately destroy emails that are considered “nonbusiness” correspondence.

“Agency staff should destroy or delete these records upon receipt because they are not business-related, and because agencies may be required to produce them under legal orders or open records requests,” the commission's policies recommend.

Deputy denies wrongdoing

Bates, who still works in the courthouse downtown, said Aubrey has never said anything to him about complaints from Burke. He said he has never seen Clay's letter.

Bates denied sending any inappropriate emails or texts to the judge, saying the allegations in the Clay letter were false.

“I wouldn't have sent anything to her from my personal or work email,” he said.

WDRB showed Bates an April 26, 2013 email from his government account to Burke and a deputy containing a picture of President Barack Obama blaming former President Bush for problems in the country. Above Obama is a headline that reads “Liberal Logic 101” and below the picture it reads, “(yes, they are that stupid.)”

Asked if he sent the email, Bates said, “I guess I could have, but I don't remember it.”

Bates also said he had no memory of the “Very Brave Man Jokes” email and said, “I really refrain from sending something like this from my sheriff's email account.”

But Bates said he sometimes leaves his email account open in his office so someone else could have sent it.

“I leave my email up constantly,” Bates said during a 30-minute interview last week. “That's the only explanation I can give you.”

Another email WDRB obtained was apparently sent by former Harrison County, Ky., Sheriff Bruce Hampton to Bates on May 2, 2013, titled “Shotgun Identification.” The email, which contained numerous pictures of two naked women carrying shotguns, was forwarded from Bates' personal account to those of three Jefferson County deputies.

Bates said he knew Hampton but had no recollection of receiving or forwarding the email.

Another email sent by Hampton from his work account to Bates' private email on March 1, 2013 at about 3 p.m. is titled, “Can You guess her age” and shows four pictures of nude women, ending with, “The answer is … ‘who gives a s---.'”

The email was forwarded from Bates' private email address to other law enforcement agents, in both Louisville and Bullitt County. Bates said he had no recollection of sending pornographic emails, but, if he did, it was not sent from his department email address.

Asked if the emails were sent during work hours, Bates said, “I don't recall that.”

WDRB has filed an open records request for Bates' time slips to see if he was working when emails obtained by reporters were sent. He said he typically works Monday thru Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Of the dozen emails obtained by WDRB, 11 of them were sent during those work hours.

Hampton no longer serves as Harrison County Sheriff. He did not immediately return a phone message left at his home Monday morning.

Bates denied many of the allegations in the June 6 letter to Aubrey from Clay on Burke's behalf, and said there is “tension” between him and Burke “because we had problems with her and a particular deputy,” though he declined to elaborate, saying WDRB would have to talk with Yates.

The June 6, 2014, letter from Clay to Aubrey also claims Bates called the judge a “she-devil,” “arrogant idiot,” “clueless incompetent (sic)”and “spoiled rotten brat.”

Bates said he never said any of those things directly to the judge.  

Clay's 2014 letter to Aubrey claims Bates sent numerous messages to Burke about God and “Muselems (sic),” anti-Obama rhetoric and “pro gun, right wing propaganda which she finds offensive.”

Bates responded that he wouldn't call anything he sent the judge “right-wing” and, noting that Burke has Democratic political leanings, “If I've sent her anything, it's to counter something she sent me.”

In fact, Bates said at one point, when Burke complained to Bates in front of other sheriff's officials about him, he turned over correspondence she sent him to department internal investigators.

WDRB's records request to the sheriff's department did not turn up those records.

Yates said there is no ongoing investigation into Burke's allegations and was skeptical of the claims.

“I don't know who this source is and I don't need to know,” Yates said. “But they're leading you down a primrose path.”

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