SUNDAY EDITION | Ex-officer in LMPD sex abuse scandal showed 'pattern of behavior,' 2013 probe found
“When it comes to kids … you should sure as hell better have a thorough investigation to see how deep it goes within the department,” a national criminal justice expert said. “The entire department’s integrity was at stake.”
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A former Louisville Metro Police officer exhibited a “pattern of behavior” in using his position of trust and authority to meet teens in the department’s youth Explorer program, according to sources with knowledge of a 2013 internal investigation.
A summary of the probe against former Officer Kenneth Betts -- involving allegations of misconduct with two teens -- even cited a state law related to abuse of power, the sources told WDRB News.
But instead of conducting a broader review into the claims, Chief Steve Conrad allowed Betts to resign seven months later and the investigation concluded.
The Explorer program continued until last month when Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer suspended it amid accusations in a lawsuit that Betts and former Officer Brandon Wood sexually abused teens over several years and the department covered it up. Both men were indicted earlier this month.
Given what police officials knew four years ago, criminal justice experts, police officers, Metro council members and others have questioned why the department didn’t do a comprehensive investigation of Betts, Wood and the program at the time.
The details of the 2013 investigation were more than enough for police officials to dig deeper into the allegations, said Lewis Katz, a Case Western University law professor whose books have been cited in hundreds of court cases and legal articles.
“When it comes to kids … you should sure as hell better have a thorough investigation to see how deep it goes within the department,” he said. “The entire department’s integrity was at stake.”
LMPD officials did not respond to a request for comment for this article. Conrad has not talked about the 2013 investigation, saying it is part of ongoing litigation.
Samuel Walker, a professor at the University of Nebraska and a scholar on police misconduct, said LMPD should have been prepared to act because sex abuse scandals in police youth initiatives are not an uncommon occurrence. Programs such as the LMPD Explorer mentors teens interested in becoming police officers.
“The problem is (a) failure level of higher command officers to say, ‘Let’s see if we have a problem in this area,’” Walker said. “Even if you just have rumors something occurred, even if there is just smoke, the department has a responsibility to see if there is a fire.”
In 2003, Walker co-authored a study that uncovered a “disturbing pattern” of police nationwide sexually abusing teens in such programs dating to the 1990s.
And in 2012, the Associated Press found about 100 instances of officers accused of sexually assaulting minors in programs in U.S. departments.
Walker said many of the agencies he looked into were aware of complaints against officers but failed to act.
“They want to bury it,” Walker said in an interview. “It’s difficult and embarrassing to dig further, but that is what they have to do.”
Metro Council member David James, a former Louisville police officer, among others on the council, has questioned why the department stopped its 2013 probe when Betts resigned, “because it would seem you would want to investigate that all the other children were safe.”
James said all parents with children in the Explorer program should have been contacted at the time, especially after two alleged victims came forward and both Betts and Wood were mentioned during the investigation.
“When they first heard of what was happening, the chief should have said, ‘Let’s see what’s going on … I want to find out what happened.’”
Teen slept over with officers
The case against Betts started with an internal investigation Conrad initiated on July 29, 2013, when a 16-year-old female Explorer told police the officer had been sending inappropriate texts and talking lewdly.
Betts told the teen in one text message included in the investigative report that he wanted to meet behind a school and “make out” with her. He also sent her photos, including at least one of a shirtless man, though it is unclear if it is Betts.
In another instance, he invited her to go running, but when she showed up, he instead asked her to make out, according to a summary of her interview with police described to WDRB. There was no physical contact between the two.
During that investigation, another officer told investigators about hearing rumors Betts had made advances on a male teen in the same Explorer camp.
That teen was reluctant to come forward but was located by an investigator and, as part of the investigation into the female teen’s allegations, told police in August 2013 that Betts had offered him money for sex and promised to take care of a traffic citation in exchange for sexual favors.
As part of getting rid of the traffic ticket, Betts offered to make the teen a confidential informant. The teen also told police Betts asked him for group sex and to allow the officer to perform oral sex on him, sources told WDRB.
The teen told police he repeatedly declined the requests.
In addition, the male teen told investigators he often slept at Betts or Wood’s homes because he lived out of town.
Wood was interviewed for the investigation but a summary of what he said is redacted, sources said. There was no separate investigation of Wood.
The summary of the investigation noted that the male teen did not come forward on his own but that his interview showed Betts met both teens through the program and violated the trust and authority of his position.
The 2013 internal investigation by the department’s professional standards unit found that Betts violated police procedures but committed no criminal acts involving the girl.
Conrad closed the case “by exception” when Betts resigned, saying “no further action need be taken.”
There was no further investigation into the male teenager’s allegations, a police source said.
In his resignation letter, Betts said although he was due for a promotion, he had accepted another opportunity to finish his doctorate degree.
A criminal investigation started against Wood and Betts last year after new evidence surfaced, including a video of sex acts, sources said.
Woods was put on leave in October 2016 when investigators opened the criminal case against him. He was fired earlier this month but is appealing.
Both Betts and Wood maintain their innocence.
Shortly after he was indicted this month for allegedly sexual abusing teens, Betts wrote on Facebook that he is innocent.
“I would never do something to harm anyone or a program that did so (much) good,” Betts wrote on his Facebook page.
“I was not raised nor have I ever wanted or did (sic) hurt someone like they are saying,” Betts wrote in response to comments from friends offering support. “It’s for sure hard on my family and I but I know I have God and so many wonderful family and friends on my side.”
He was charged with two counts of sodomy involving two different alleged victims. The indictment alleges Betts engaged in “deviate sexual intercourse” with one of the victims through the use of “forcible compulsion” over a five-month period in 2007.
And Betts is accused of committing sodomy on July 26, 2013 with a minor “he came into contact with as a result” of his position as a police officer.
Wood was also indicted on seven counts of sexual abuse with one alleged victim, a juvenile, stemming from incidents in 2011 and 2012.
In Walker’s 2003 study, he said that in several complaints against police nationwide, it was alleged that “the police chief or other departmental officials failed to investigate complaints of sexual misconduct about an officer in the department.”
Walker highlighted a case in Florida in which an officer accused of having sex with a 16-year-old girl killed himself. In his suicide note, the officer wrote, “I’m not the only person who’s having sex with a minor at the police department. They really need to tighten up the rules with those Explorers.”
The police chief for that department had initially dismissed allegations of other abuse, but an outside investigator discovered that at least 11 officers had had sex with Explorers going back to the 1980s.
Metro Council President and attorney David Yates, who filed the lawsuit against the city and LMPD on behalf of a former male Explorer, says three other alleged victims have hired him.
Yates said he plans on filing additional suits.
Yates filed the suit on behalf of a former Explorer, identified only by the initials N.C., who claims Wood and Betts sexually abused him while he was a teen in the program between 2011 and 2013.
The initial suit alleges that Wood and Betts molested, abused and raped the teen and recorded the sexual acts.
In addition, police 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.
Walker’s 2003 study ends with several recommendations on how departments should handle the youth programs, including more involvement from the chief, assigning a male and female officer as co-leaders of the program, more comprehensive screening of participating officers and being transparent about allegations of misconduct and how the department responds to them.
“I’m a little surprised departments haven’t done a better job of getting this under control,” Walker said.
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