Boy Scouts support making evidence confidential in LMPD sexual a - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Boy Scouts support making evidence confidential in LMPD sexual abuse lawsuit

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LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – The Boy Scouts told a judge Friday the organization does "not object" to a proposal for strict confidentiality over evidence in the lawsuit accusing Louisville Metro Police officers of sexually abusing a teen in the department’s youth Explorer program.

The proposed protective order includes sealing evidence, though the Scouts argue that Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman should first rule on whether to dismiss the lawsuit.

"A protective order would not violate the public's common law right to access 'judicial documents,'" argued J. Brittany Cross Carlson, an attorney for the Scouts. 

Carlson said the Kentucky Supreme Court has already ruled that only documents that play a role in the resolution of a case are "presumed to be accessible to the public." So, Carlson argued, evidence that is used in the case could be unsealed at some point and made accessible to the public. 

The initial request to make evidence confidential was presented to McDonald-Burkman earlier this month by attorneys for the alleged victim and would allow for documents and other evidence to be filed under seal for 90 days, without a hearing and findings as to why the information should be kept from the public. 

The proposed protective order also calls for the judge to remove the public and media from the courtroom while “confidential information” is being discussed. It also would allow witnesses in the case to have their identities shielded -- if they so choose. 

Attorneys for WDRB, The Courier-Journal and one of the former Louisville Metro Police officers accused of sexually abusing a teen have objected to the proposals.

The Boy Scouts and Lincoln Heritage Council also said in the motion that they “take no position” as to whether the alleged victim, identified as “N.C.” in the lawsuit, should be able to keep his name a secret from the public – an argument rebuffed by opposing lawyers on First Amendment and other grounds.

However, the Scouts argued the alleged victim should be identified for attorneys “so as not to impede their investigation of the claims and defenses raised in the litigation.”

When Betts was accused of improper conduct with a teen in the department’s Explorer program in 2013, the Boy Scouts said they “acted to remove him,” according to a March Courier-Journal story.

Boy Scouts spokeswoman Kelly Bedtelyon told the newspaper in an email that Betts was removed and blocked from participating in other Scouting programs after Chief Steve Conrad initiated an investigation into complaints of misconduct by a 16-year-old female Explorer.

But Bedtelyon will not comment on whether the Scouts knew or did anything about an allegation during the same investigation that another officer, Brandon Wood, had allowed a male Explorer to sleep over at the officer’s home.

The male teen told investigators in August 2013 that he often slept at Betts or Wood’s homes because he lived out of town.

Wood was interviewed for the 2013 investigation but a summary of what he said is redacted, sources said. There was no separate investigation of Wood.

Asked whether the Scouts knew about the allegation against Wood, Bedtelyon sent WDRB the following response last week:

“Thanks for reaching out. While we cannot discuss the specifics of ongoing litigation, we can share that disregard for our youth protection policies is not tolerated and these individuals have been removed and prohibited from any future participation in Exploring and all Scouting programs. I want to reiterate that nothing is more important than the safety of our youth members.”

The Boy Scouts’ Lincoln Heritage Council run the Explorer program with police.

Last week, WDRB asked Conrad why more wasn’t done in 2013 after two teens came forward with allegations against officers. Conrad also said he could not comment on pending litigation.

Civil cases can sometimes take years to resolve. And some of the parties in the civil suit have asked a judge to delay the case until the criminal charges have been resolved.

Wood remained in the Explorer program until October when investigators opened the criminal case against him.

Last month, Wood was indicted on seven counts of sexual abuse with one alleged victim, a juvenile, stemming from incidents in 2011 and 2012.

Betts 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.

Through his attorneys, “N.C.” is suing Metro government, the Louisville Metro Police Department, former Officers Wood and Betts, Maj. Curtis Flaherty and the Boy Scouts of America.

The lawsuit claims Betts and Wood raped N.C. between 2011 and 2013 while he was a member of LMPD’s Explorer program, which mentored young people interested in law enforcement careers until Mayor Greg Fischer recently suspended it. The suit alleges that police covered up the accusations.

In an interview last week, Tad Thomas, an attorney for N.C. said that the order was not meant to include anonymity for all witnesses, just those who claim to have been abused.

In an email, Thomas said that the proposed protective order is “an attempt to negotiate an agreement with all parties regarding confidential information. The primary concern for our client continues to be protecting the identities of victims of sexual abuse, whether parties or witnesses. A sexual assault victim should not be victimized a second time simply because they want to seek justice in the courtroom. Courts and legislatures across the country have recognized the privacy rights of victims and we hope this court will as well.”

But the proposal would allow evidence in the case, such as depositions, or testimony taken from witnesses, to be immediately classified as “confidential information” and filed under seal, unless indicated otherwise.

WDRB attorneys noted the protective order would also punish media outlets -- possibly holding reporters in contempt --  for publishing confidential evidence, a violation of the First Amendment.

McDonald-Burkman plans to rule on whether the alleged victim should be identified sometime this month. She also is considering whether to delay the civil lawsuit while a criminal case proceeds and possibly even dismiss the suit, which attorneys for the former officers accused of abuse say was filed after Kentucky’s one-year statute of limitations expired.

The 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.

Conrad closed that case “by exception” when Betts resigned, saying “no further action need be taken.”

A hearing on the motions to dismiss the case is scheduled for June 30.

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