Key questions that may be answered Wednesday in the LMPD sex scandal investigation
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- For more than 15 months, a few critical questions have stood at the center of the investigation of the Louisville Metro Police Explorer scandal: What did police and city officials know about officers allegedly sexually abusing scouts, and when did they know it?
And, perhaps most importantly, what did they do about it?
Some of those questions may be answered Wednesday with the scheduled release of a lengthy investigation conducted by former U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey into how Louisville police and the city reacted to the scandal.
The scandal involves allegations that multiple Louisville police officers sexually assaulted teens, known as Explorers, in a police mentoring program run in conjunction with the Boy Scouts.
Two former officers have been criminally charged and a current officer is under criminal investigation. At least six lawsuits are pending in U.S. District Court claiming Explorers were sexually harassed or assaulted and that officials covered it up.
Harvey’s report is supposed to shed light on, among other issues, how police handled a 2013 investigation of former LMPD Officer Kenneth Betts. He was initially accused of sending inappropriate texts and talking lewdly to a 16-year-old female Explorer.
Betts was accused of sending the girl shirtless pictures of himself and asking her to "make out.” Some of the texts between the girl and Betts are included in a police internal investigation.
During the course of that investigation, a male Explorer told police investigators that Betts offered him money for sex. The teen also said Betts offered to take care of a speeding ticket in exchange for sexual favors. And the male told police he often spent the night with Betts and another LMPD officer and Explorer program supervisor, Brandon Wood.
Wood was interviewed for the internal police investigation but a summary of what he said is redacted. There was no separate investigation of Wood in 2013.
Sources close to the investigation have said a former high-ranking police official told LMPD Chief Steve Conrad a thorough criminal investigation needed to be launched in 2013.
However, there was never an investigation into what the male teen said, and Conrad closed the Betts case “by exception” when the officer resigned in 2014. Conrad wrote in a memo that “no further action was needed.”
It wasn’t until Wood was accused of sexual abuse in October 2016 that the case was revived.
Conrad has repeatedly declined to publicly explain his decision to close the Betts case without further action in 2014, citing pending investigations.
Conrad was interviewed for the Harvey report, however, and the report may include his previously undisclosed comments on the subject.
Mayor Greg Fischer has said multiple times that he first learned of sexual abuse allegations in the program in October 2016 -- just before the scandal became public knowledge. After a lawsuit was filed in March 2017, Fischer halted the Explorer program.
Metro Council President David James, a former Louisville police officer, among others on the council, has repeatedly 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,” he said last year.
James has 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,’” James said.
In addition, that internal police investigation concluded that Betts exhibited a “pattern of behavior” in using his position of trust and authority to meet teens in the department’s youth Explorer program.
A summary of the investigation even cited a state law related to abuse of power.
Giving testimony for a unrelated lawsuit, Conrad said he told Fischer’s chief of staff, Ellen Hesen, about the allegations of sex abuse in the program in 2013 and 2014, when Betts was under investigation and when the case concluded.
But Hesen has testified that she doesn't have “an independent recollection” of Conrad talking to her about the investigation.
“If the chief thought he briefed me then I don’t have any reason to doubt him,” Hesen said under oath in a deposition earlier this year. “I just don’t remember it.”
Conrad said in his deposition that Hesen never told him whether she passed along information about the investigation to the mayor.
So, some of the questions council members hope to have answered by the Harvey report:
- Did Conrad tell Hesen the full extent of what was discovered during Betts investigation before it was closed?
Hesen testified last year that the chief reminded her in 2016 of the previous Betts investigation involving the 16-year-old girl. She did not testify about knowing anything about the male Explorer.
- So, was Hesen ever told that two Explorers made accusations and two police officers were mentioned during the probe? Or that investigators concluded Betts had exhibited a “pattern of behavior” in abusing his authority to meet teens?
- Why was the Explorer program not suspended until a lawsuit was filed in March 2017 if Mayor Fischer learned about allegations against Betts and Wood in October 2016?
Invoices from Harvey, who wrapped up the investigation in March, show he interviewed Fischer and Hesen. But Fischer was not interviewed until just a few weeks before the probe was completed, according to the invoices.
The Fischer administration, citing attorney-client privilege, blacked out the names of other people Harvey interviewed -- including Conrad -- in copies of the investigator’s bills turned over to WDRB News under the Kentucky Open Records Act.
Harvey’s report is 90 pages long, according to councilman James. Metro Council is expected to meet on Wednesday to vote on releasing a redacted version of the report.
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