LMPD investigation finds no wrongdoing by officers accused of camp abuse
LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – An internal investigation into allegations that Louisville Metro Police officers physically and verbally abused attendees at a camp for at-risk youths has concluded without finding any wrongdoing.
Police Chief Steve Conrad ordered the administrative investigation last summer after two counselors at the Gentleman’s Academy camp made the abuse claims in a whistleblower lawsuit.
Police closed their investigation into five officers in late June, with none of the allegations sustained, according to documents obtained by WDRB News under the Kentucky Open Records Act.
Allegations against three officers for violating use of force and courtesy policies were either “not sustained,” “exonerated” or “unfounded.” The investigation into actions of two other officers was “closed by exception” because they left the department before the probe was finished.
WDRB asked for copies of the complete administrative investigative file into the abuse allegations, but police said only the initiation letter and conclusions are public records. Police spokeswoman Alicia Smiley cited a 1982 Kentucky Court of Appeals ruling denying access to records and documents in police administrative investigations. There was no criminal investigation into the allegations, Smiley said.
The records provided by police show Conrad ordered the department’s Professional Standards Unit to review the conduct of Col. Yvette Gentry, Officers Clayton Reeves, Antoine Frye, Jonathan Hardin and any other officers mentioned in the lawsuit in Jefferson Circuit Court. The unit also investigated the conduct of Officer Jeffrey Emerich.
According to police records, the investigation into Gentry, who ran the Gentleman’s Academy program, was “closed by exception” because she retired in December.
But in an interview Tuesday, Gentry, who is now director of Youth Detention Services, said she believed the case against her was cleared before she retired.
“I would not have retired” if the investigation was still pending, Gentry said. “I would have waited.”
LMPD declined to respond to Gentry’s claim.
Gentry was accused in the lawsuit of knowing about the alleged abuse at the camp and allowing it to continue. Erica Buckner and Alexis Keen, the counselors who filed the lawsuit, claim that Gentry retaliated against them, in part, by cutting their pay.
Because the lawsuit hasn’t been resolved, Gentry said she could not yet “speak freely” about the allegations against her and other officers.
“But the bottom line is there was no wrongdoing found,” she said. “We were investigated by everybody. …. All of the claims were unsubstantiated.”
The investigation into Hardin was “closed by exception” because he was fired after being charged with assault, wanton endangerment and official misconduct for allegedly assaulting students in January while working as a school resource officer at Olmsted Academy North Middle School. That criminal case is pending.
Hardin was accused of assaulting a youth at the camp, according to the lawsuit.
Thomas Clay, an attorney representing the two camp counselors, said in an interview that he believes the internal investigation is a “whitewash” organized by Conrad.
“It has zero credibility with me,” Clay said. “These letters signed by Chief Conrad represent a pattern in my opinion of the chief finding basically what he wants to.”
And Clay said police should have finished the investigations into Hardin and Gentry’s conduct despite them no longer being with the department.
“This ‘closing by exception’ is basically a way of absolving anybody of responsibility without any kind of inquiry,” he said.
It is common procedure for police to close an internal investigation when an officer retires or resigns.
Police did not interview Buckner and Keen for the investigation because the two wanted their attorneys present and investigators declined, Clay said.
Smiley said the department would not respond to Clay’s comments.
In the lawsuit, Buckner and Keen claim officers punched, threatened and cursed some participants, running kids to exhaustion and turning the program into a boot camp.
The suit alleges, for example, that Reeves slammed one participant's face down into a picnic table, shouting obscenities at him and bent his arm “almost to the breaking point.” Reeves then left the youth outside and denied him water and food, according to the suit.
Another youth claimed Reeves threatened to “cut their eyes out and throw them across the street,” the suit claims.
In his June 23 letter, Conrad wrote that after a thorough investigation, the allegations that Reeves violated use of force and courtesy policies were either “not sustained” or “unfounded.” The complaint against Reeves was dismissed. Not sustained means there was not enough evidence to prove something, according to police guidelines. Unfounded means the allegation was false.
Det. Antoine Frye, according to the lawsuit, tackled a student because he stopped to take a break during physical training. Other scholars reported that Frye laughed about the incident, according to the suit.
The internal investigation exonerated Frye of an alleged use of force violation and a courtesy violation claim was not sustained. An exoneration means, according to police, that an incident occurred but it was "lawful and proper."
In the lawsuit, an “Officer Jeff” is accused of slamming a scholar into a wall in a dorm room.
The police records show an Officer Jeffrey Emerich was cleared of a use of force allegation. Attorneys for Buckner and Keen did not know if Emerich is the “Jeff” identified in the lawsuit.
The academy was sponsored by LMPD and the University of Louisville’s Center for Mental Health Disparities.
Participants stayed in a Spalding University dormitory for six weeks, hiking and going on bike rides while also receiving training in academics and anger management. The goal of the program was to help troubled youth avoid negative paths in life.
But Buckner and Keen claim it was turned into a boot camp, with the youth being awakened one morning 3 a.m. for intense physical activity.
In a separate lawsuit, filed in November, against Gentry, Reeves and Hardin, a 14-year-old claims he was "hit, pushed, and slapped.” That case is also still pending.
WDRB has asked LMPD for the results of any investigation into those allegations.
Buckner, who served as the Mental Health Program Director for the Academy, said in an interview in November that the “physical abuse, the boot camp-like nature, was not a part of the intention of the program.”
“Parents sign their kids over to LMPD to be in safe hands and they let them down,” Buckner said at the time. “They failed them.”
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