LMPD officer involved in Explorer Program sex abuse case also involved in 2013 investigation

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – An investigation into LMPD’s handling of allegations of sexual misconduct in the youth Explorer program reveals a series “deficiencies," including a failure to look into possible criminal conduct and determine if the abuse was widespread. 

The report by a former federal prosecutor, which was made public on Wednesday, outlines six different ways that the internal investigation into former officer Kenneth Betts was mishandled, finding that "mistakes were made."

But the report ultimately concluded there was no cover-up by police or city officials.

"Mistakes and errors in judgement are qualitatively distinct from a criminal cover-up," according to the report. 

Betts was initially accused of sending inappropriate texts to a 16-year-old female Explorer and asking her to “make-out" in 2013. During the course of that investigation detectives learned that a second Explorer, a male teen, was offered money by Betts in exchange for sex several years prior. 

According to the report, after investigators learned of the allegations against Betts, they should have seen that “a pattern could be seen that Betts viewed Explorers as potential sexual partners.” As a result, “every Explorer in the LMPD program, and every Explorer that had previously had contact with Betts, should have been interviewed…”

In addition, LMPD investigators should have consulted with prosecutors to see if criminal charges should be filed. 

And investigators should have seized Betts' phone for a forensic examination, according to the 90 page report by former U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey, who was paid about $140,000 for the report, which took about a year to complete. 

Betts is accused of sexually abusing or harassing other Explorers, according to the report. 

In addition, detectives interviewed the girl and her parents but never recorded that interview. According to the report, nude photographs that police discovered of the girl on her cell phone were destroyed by police and not made a part of the investigative file.

Betts was ultimately charged and indicted in 2017 after the allegations were first made public.

The report also shows that former Louisville Metro Police Deputy Chief Ozzie Gibson asked Chief Steve Conrad in 2013 whether Betts should be criminally charged and fired, according to documents released on Wednesday.

Instead, Conrad allowed Betts to resign six months after the investigation had concluded. Betts was not fired immediately, according to the investigation, because he was ill and needed health insurance to complete his medical treatment. 

Gibson, according to an investigation of the LMPD Explorer sex scandal, told Conrad Betts should have been fired so that "the record should be clear as to the nature of Betts' misconduct and the decision to fire him as a consequence."

However, while "mistakes in judgement, some significant" were made, the report concludes "there was no effort in the LMPD senior command staff to cover up allegations of misconduct in the Explorer program."

Still, the report concluded that by allowing Betts to resign, it allowed the investigation to remain sealed and him to continue in the profession. 

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, including Betts, 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 focused mainly on how police handled the 2013 investigation of Betts. 

Betts was accused of sending the 16-year-old 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.

Betts acknowledged the "sexual innuendo" in the texts and that it was "definitely an error in my judgement," according to Harvey's 90-page report. 

Nude pictures of the girl were found on her phone and police were initially concerned that they had been sent to Betts. Major Donald Burbrink, head of the department's special investigation unit at the time, ordered that the pictures be deleted from the phone and copies in the investigative file shredded. 

Burbrink explained that there was no evidence the teen had sent the pictures to Betts and he didn't want them to ever be released publicly, to save the family from embarrassment. 

The mother of the girl said she felt former Lt. Curtis Flaherty, who was in charge of the Explorer program at the time, encouraged her not to talk with investigators. Flaherty denied that. 

The report concluded Flaherty did not try to dissuade the teen's parents from cooperating, Flaherty did exercise "questionable judgement" in having any contact with them. Given his relationship with the Explorer program and Betts, Flaherty should not have been involved in the investigation, according to the report. He then repeated the mistake in the Wood investigation in 2016.

Harvey's report  also concluded that police should have interviewed the teen girl separate from her parents, recorded the interview and conducted a criminal investigation. And the nude photos should have not been destroyed and instead stored appropriately, the report said. 

During the course of that investigation, a male Explorer told police investigators that Betts offered him $400 for oral sex in 2009. The teen also said Betts offered to take care of a speeding ticket in exchange for sexual favors. 

And the male told police Betts offered let him make traffic stops in the officer's cruiser and give him a bullet proof vest. In addition, the male Explorer, who wanted to become a police officer, said Betts threatened to "give him bad references" if he did not have sex with him.

The former Explorer said he did not have sex with Betts. 

Betts said he believed the male was older, 20 or 21, when the two had some "physical contact," according to the report. 

The Harvey report concluded police should have gone to prosecutors to see if criminal charges were warranted. Conrad instead 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 another officer, Brandon Wood, was accused of sexual abuse of a teen Explorer in July 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.

When it was determined that Betts had offered an Explorer money, according to the report, police should have asked the Jefferson County Attorney's office if a crime had been committed.

And police should have "identified" a pattern with Betts and talked with all other teens in the program to see if he had engaged in improper behavior with them, the report concludes. 

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.

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 the report he told Hesen about the 2013 investigation "only in passing."

Conrad said in his deposition that Hesen never told him whether she passed along information about the investigation to the mayor.  

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.

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