All involved want LMPD sexual abuse lawsuit unsealed, but a state law is delaying case
“This is an awful, awful thing that happened to individuals within our community,” attorney David Yates told reporters after the hearing. “It’s important the information come out. It’s important that those that participated in the abuse of minors are held accountable.”
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – All the parties involved in the lawsuit against two Louisville Metro Police officers accused of raping a teen believe the case should be unsealed and made public – with even the judge indicating she was leaning that way on Thursday.
But the lawsuit, accusing former Officer Kenneth Betts and Officer Brandon Wood of sexually abusing a former Explorer Scout from 2011 to 2013, was sealed under a state law requiring sex abuse cases that occurred more than five years prior to be closed.
Attorneys for the city, WDRB and The Courier-Journal argued that legal proceedings should be open to the public, and the state law is unconstitutional and has already been thrown out by a different Jefferson Circuit Court judge.
But that judge's ruling is not binding on Jefferson Circuit Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman, who is handing the LMPD lawsuit.
She postponed the case until May 3 to gather more information to determine whether to rule the statute is unconstitutional.
McDonald-Burkman indicated a few times during the hearing that she felt the case should be open to the public, but the law sealing it (KRS 413.249) has not been challenged to a higher court and she said must be diligent before throwing it out.
Metro Council President and attorney David Yates, who filed the lawsuit, said he had no problem unsealing it, as long as his client’s identify is protected. Currently, the alleged victim is only identified as N.C.
"This is an awful, awful thing that happened to individuals within our community," Yates told reporters after the hearing. "It’s important the information come out. It’s important that those that participated in the abuse of minors are held accountable."
Yates told reporters he was talking to other possible alleged victims who may join the lawsuit. He would not say how many alleged victims he has spoken with.
Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell told McDonald-Burkman and reporters that Yates should have to prove why his client – who is now in his 20s – should remain anonymous while the defendants have been named.
“It’s in the best interest of all concerned to be transparent,” O’Connell said after the hearing. “The playing field needs to be level. … It’s not fair for them (the officers) to be named and not have the plaintiffs in this case named.”
Later on Thursday, O'Connell issued a statement saying the opposite.
“I want to be clear that neither I nor the city want any abuse victims’ identity to be made public," O'Connell said. "Mayor Fischer and I both have said that we are not seeking to reveal victims’ names."
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.
Wood and Betts molested, abused and raped the teen and recorded the sexual acts, according to the suit.
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.
Police are also accused of falsification of reports, deletion of phone records and audio files and destruction of paper evidence.
Issues with Betts started at least as early as 2013, when a 16-year-old girl claimed the officer texted her shirtless pictures of himself and asked to meet her and "make out."
During that internal police investigation, a male teen told police that Betts offered him money for sex and promised to take care of a traffic citation in exchange for sexual favors.
The internal investigation by the department’s professional standards unit found that Betts violated police procedures but committed no criminal acts involving the girl.
There was no investigation into the male teenager’s allegations and Betts avoided any discipline by leaving the department in April 2014.
Police Chief Steve Conrad closed the case “by exception” when Betts resigned, saying “no further action need be taken.”
Neither of the teens in the case is involved with the recent lawsuit.
Police spokeswoman Alicia Smiley has said Conrad is "barred from speaking about the allegations due to the court order sealing the lawsuit."
Wood maintains he is innocent, said his attorney, Steve Schroering,
Brian Butler, who represents Betts, has declined to comment.
Metro Council members and police officers have said the 2013 case should have prompted Conrad to conduct a criminal investigation.
But when Betts resigned, there was no further investigation of the program until allegations surfaced against Wood last year, including videos of sex acts, sources said.
It is typical for police to close a case under investigation by the professional standards unit when an officer leaves.
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.
The department's Public Integrity Unit conducts criminal investigations of officers. Those cases do not end with an officer's resignation or retirement.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer temporarily suspended the Explorer program amid the accusations. The mayor also has appointed a special investigator, former U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey, to conduct a special investigation into what he called "disturbing" allegations.
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