Majority of Louisville Metro Council calls for outside investigation of LMPD
"It’s impossible for the police chief and his staff to investigate itself. The only way we can have a transparent, independent, thorough investigation is by an independent public law enforcement agency," Council member David James said.
LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) -- More than half of Louisville's Metro Council members are calling for an independent investigation of the city's police department amid allegations that authorities covered up child sexual abuse by officers.
Appearing at a press conference Thursday at City Hall, a bipartisan group of 11 members raised doubts that police could conduct their own probe -- especially after an earlier probe into an officer's "improper contact" with a female member of the Explorer program was closed without any findings. The program trains young people interested in becoming police officers.
Six Democrats were in attendance, and all nine of the council's Republicans support an outside inquiry, said Steve Haag, the GOP caucus spokesman.
Council member David James, a Democrat and former police officer, said he has spoken with the FBI, which has agreed to do a "preliminary investigation." A spokesman for the FBI said the agency "is aware of the situation regarding the Explorer program" but "cannot confirm or deny the existence or nonexistence of an investigation."
James said he and council member James Peden, a Republican, first heard of the allegations late last year. Peden said the council members' push for an independent investigation was "kickstarted" by a lawsuit filed last week by attorney and council president David Yates alleging that a teenage boy was raped by two officers over several years.
At the same time, both James and Peden say they have been contacted by concerned officers.
"There are some police officers telling us what rocks to turn over," Peden said.
James said officers have told him there is a "cover-up."
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has temporarily suspended the Explorer program and asked to unseal the lawsuit that claims a teen was raped by former Officer Kenneth Betts and Officer Brandon Wood.
James said Thursday that Fischer, a Democrat, needs to ask the state Attorney General's office or another outside agency to investigate.
"It's impossible for the police chief and his staff to investigate itself," James said. "The only way we can have a transparent, independent, thorough investigation is by an independent public law enforcement agency."
Metro Council member Angela Leet, who spoke at the press conference, said in an interview earlier in the day that there is no reason for police to not have finished their investigation.
"We can do (investigations) in months when there is a shooting, yet when we have a child potentially violated, it's taken years, which is not acceptable," she said.
The request by Metro Council members comes after police in July 2013 launched the investigation that Betts allegedly made inappropriate contact with a female in the program. Her age has not been made public.
Conrad closed the investigation in April 2014, citing Betts' resignation from the department and adding that no further action was needed. James told reporters he is concerned that the decision to stop the investigation may have prevented the possible discovery of other victims.
In his resignation letter from March 2014, Betts said although he was due for a promotion, he had accepted another opportunity to finish his doctorate degree and his time with the department would come to an end on May 1, 2014.
That case was being investigated by the department's professional standards unit, which conducts internal administrative investigations. The department did not conduct a criminal investigation into the allegations.
"The mayor needs to reach out to the Attorney General's office to ask their public corruption unit to investigate all matters concerning the Explorer program, including but not limited to any allegations of a cover-up or lack of transparency - and willingness to look at all people who may be culpable in this situation, including members of the chief’s staff or the mayor's office," James said.
In an interview Thursday, Fischer was asked about the call for an outside investigation.
"What I can tell you is there is not going to be any stone left unturned into this investigation of the Explorers Program ," he said. "...To me, it's all about transparency and accountability so I'm looking at all kinds of options here."
Asked if he was aware of any cover-up, Fischer told a reporter that it was a "leading question" that he was "more professional to ask."
Chris Poynter, a Fischer spokesman, issued a statement later in the day that read, "At the request of the LMPD, the Attorney General's Office has provided assistance in this matter. We appreciate council members for offering ideas on how to ensure all the facts emerge."
The lawsuit filed by Yates last week was sealed by Jefferson Circuit Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman. The Courier-Journal first reported the existence of the lawsuit and its contents.
James said that given that police had record of some allegations involving Betts and the program in 2013, it is important to find out who knew what and when.
Also, he said that while police began an investigation into Wood several months ago, the Explorer program was only recently suspended.
"When did the mayor know and what did he know?" James asked. "If he knew (last year) when this investigation started, why did we wait till March to cancel the program?"
A preliminary criminal investigation was turned over to the Jefferson Commonwealth's Attorney's Office on Feb. 7. Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Wine said a prosecutor is reviewing the investigation but also is expecting more information from police. Wine declined to discuss the case further because it is still pending.
Yates claims Betts and Wood, who was reassigned within LMPD in October, sexually assaulted a male teenager over several years while he was in the program and accuses the department of covering up the case.
Yates said he asked that the lawsuit be sealed as is required under state law in a sexual abuse case in which the allegations are more than five years old. He said Monday he would be "open to reaching an agreement of some form of unsealing as long as the victim's identify is completely protected."
Yates said the "mental health and safety of the victim remains my top priority and I will fight to ensure that he receives justice without having to be victimized again."
The lawsuit, according to information obtained by WDRB, claims the alleged victim was "sexually abused" in homes, vehicles and other locations between 2011 and 2013.
In addition, officials are accused of concealing evidence of the conduct by intimidation, destruction of evidence, deletion of information and refusal to comply with the Kentucky Open Records Act, as well as conspiracy to cover up the wrongdoing, according to the suit.
The lawsuit also accuses police of falsifying reports, deleting media phone records and audio files and destroying paper evidence.
"It literally shocks the conscience of any reasonable person to know a 16-year-old child being raped by a police officer in a position of authority, and then when he confides in another officer, a supervisor in a position of authority, and he's abused by that officer too," Yates said in an interview. "That is appalling, that is sickening, that is disgusting."
The Explorer program mentors teens interested in a career in law enforcement. The students work with officers at events like Thunder over Louisville and Derby.
In fact, Betts and Wood were once student Explorer themselves before joining the force. Betts was even named "Explorer of the Year."
Yates claims their positions helped lead to a cover-up. He says the case names Betts, Wood, LMPD Maj. Curtis Flaherty, the city of Louisville, the Louisville Metro Police Department, and the Boy Scouts of America as defendants
"There's been some bad, bad people in positions of authority and they have not been held accountable," Yates said. "They've been protected by other bad people."
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