Louisville judge unseals LMPD sex abuse lawsuit
Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman ruled that the case was initially properly sealed under a state law requiring sex abuse cases older than five years to be closed. However, the law does not require the case to remain sealed and all parties in the lawsuit were in agreement to make the case public
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) - A Jefferson Circuit Court judge on Monday unsealed a lawsuit filed against two Louisville Metro Police officers accused of raping a teen in a youth program run by the department.
Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman ruled that the suit was initially sealed properly under a state law requiring sex abuse cases older than five years to be closed. However, the law does not require the case to remain sealed after filing, and all parties in the lawsuit were in agreement to make the case public, according to the ruling.
Attorneys for Metro government, WDRB Media and The Courier-Journal had argued that the state law is unconstitutional and already has been thrown out by a different Jefferson Circuit Court judge.
At a hearing on March 20, McDonald-Burkman said she would also need to decide whether the law was unconstitutional before unsealing, but “upon further reflection,” the judge ruled that was unnecessary.
The lawsuit accuses former Officer Kenneth Betts and Officer Brandon Wood of sexually abusing a former Explorer Scout from 2011 to 2013.
David Yates, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, said he had no problem unsealing it as long as his client’s identify is protected. The alleged victim only is identified as N.C. in court documents.
The judge indicated the next issue in the case is whether the alleged victim in the case should be identified.
Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell told McDonald-Burkman and reporters on March 20 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 that day, 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."
In the newly released documents, an attorney for Officer Wood argued state law requires all parties in a lawsuit to be identified and allowing the alleged victim to go unnamed is "unfair and practically untenable."
The attorney, Kenneth Bohnert, said in the motion that the defense would be unable to conduct a proper investigation without the name of the alleged victim. Bohnert did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
McDonald-Burkman gave all parties until April 21 to present arguments on whether the victim should be named.
The lawsuit, according to information obtained last month 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 falsifying reports, deleting phone records and audio files and destroying other records.
Allegations against Betts date from 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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