LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Officers in the Louisville Metro Police Department's youth Explorer program "interrogated" a girl who had made claims of sexual abuse, took her cell phone and refused to let her parents be present when she was questioned during an out-of-town trip, according to a lawsuit unsealed in U.S. District Court.
The teen's family also claims that the head of the program tried to keep the allegations quiet through what amounted to a bribe -- offering to pay the cost of the trip to Atlanta.
Those allegations are included in thousands of documents made public in federal court on Thursday. In addition, the unsealed records accuse Louisville Metro Police Officer Brad Schuhmann of sexually abusing the girl from 2008 to 2009.
A former Explorer identified only by the initials B.L. claims Schuhmann sexually abused her and sought sexual pictures and acts from her. The abuse allegedly occurred in the officer’s cruiser, at Explorer events and through text messages.
The lawsuit was initially filed under seal in Jefferson Circuit Court in October but was moved to federal court earlier this year. It is among five other similar suits unsealed Thursday. The lawsuit claims the teen told her parents, who confronted Schuhmann and met with the program’s leader at the time, Lt. Curtis Flaherty.
Schuhmann is under criminal investigation and on paid administrative leave.
Flaherty, who is also named as a defendant in the suit, is accused of failing to report the alleged sexual abuse and “concealing” it, according to court documents. He retired last year.
“It is believed Defendant Flaherty did nothing as a result, despite receiving a report of child sex abuse,” according to the lawsuit.
Former police officer and Metro Council President David James said the child should have been taken to the Crimes Against Children Unit to talk about what happened and conduct an investigation.
"I think it's the responsibility of the city to contact these children that were victims and make sure they're taken care of and provide them counseling and treatment," James said. "And as far as I know, that has not happened. In 2013, that should have happened. In 2016, that should have happened. In 2017, that should have happened. And in 2018, that still has not happened."
The alleged sex abuse was also reported to other officers supervising the Explorer program at a retreat in Atlanta, including Kenneth Betts, Brandon Wood, Julie Schmidt and Matt Gelhausen, according to the lawsuit. All are named as defendants. Gelhausen is still with the department; the others have left or been fired.
The lawsuit claims Schmidt ordered the teen to come outside while she was in her hotel room to discuss the allegations. The teen was “taken to the courtyard alone” with the former officers named in the suit and was “interrogated” for about an hour.
The teen became “hysterically upset” as the officers were “verbally abusive, victim blaming and shaming, and belligerently berating” her, the suit claims. She requested her parents be present but was ignored, the suit claims.
In addition, the suit alleges the officers then searched the teen's room and all of her belongings, “potentially” taking and destroying “any incriminating evidence they could locate,” without a warrant. B.L.’s phone was seized by police without a court order, according to the suit.
Her parents were “livid” and met with Flaherty and other LMPD advisers, the suit says.
“In an attempt to offer an inducement for her silence, Defendant Flaherty told B.L’s parents she wouldn’t have to pay for the trip to Atlanta but there was no other resolution and essentially nothing else came out of the meeting, other than promises ordered by Flaherty that all appropriate actions would be taken against Schuhmann,” according to the suit.
The suit also claims Schmidt, Betts and Wood would have “inappropriate” parties at their homes with Explorers, giving the teens alcohol and letting them spend the night.
Betts and Wood are named in several of the lawsuits accused of sexual harassment and abuse of teens in the Explorer program and both have been indicted on sexual abuse charges. Flaherty, who at one time was the head of the program, is also named in several suits, accused of covering up the alleged abuse.
"There was a cover-up that took place in an effort to protect the other officers that were involved," James said.
B.L.'s lawsuit has amended some details of the allegations, including the years when the abuse occurred. The first lawsuit claims B.L. was raped in 2010 and 2011, while the amended suits say the teen was sexually abused - "groped" - a few years earlier.
Carol Petit, an attorney for Schuhmann, said the changes in the allegations "are significant."
"My client denies any wrongdoing whatsoever," she said in an interview.
In the unsealed documents, attorney Tad Thomas, who represents the victims said police clearly knew about allegations of sexual abuse as early as 2008, but did nothing.
"There is no possible explanation or reason as to why none of the Defendants ever reported the alleged child sex abuse, especially after receiving reports from B.L.'s parents," he wrote.
While all seven suits have been unsealed, a federal judge has allowed the plaintiffs to be identified only by their initials.
An investigation into LMPD’s handling of allegations of sexual misconduct in the youth Explorer program found police made several "mistakes," including a failure to look into possible criminal conduct and determine if the abuse was widespread.
But the report ultimately concluded there was no massive cover-up by police or city officials.
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