LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A Jefferson County grand jury Wednesday indicted a former Louisville Metro Police officer and a current officer on charges the two committed sexual abuse of teens while with the department's Explorer program.
Officer Brandon Wood was indicted on seven counts of sexual abuse with one alleged victim and given a $10,000 bond by Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Angela Bisig. Woods allegedly abused a juvenile in 2011 and 2012, according to the indictment.
Former Officer Kenneth Betts was charged with two counts of sodomy involving two different alleged victims and his bond was set at $15,000. Arrest warrants were issued for both men. The indictment alleges that Betts committed sodomy in the first degree between April 1, 2007 and September 12, 2007 by "engaging in deviate sexual intercourse" with a victim through the use of "forcible compulsion."
And Betts is accused of sodomy in the third degree on July 26, 2013, with a minor "he came into contact with as a result" of his position as a police officer.
Steve Schroering, Wood's attorney, said his client has turned himself in.
"I will enter a plea of not guilty for Officer Wood on Monday," Schroering said. "He maintains his innocence of all criminal charges. We will await the (evidence) and look forward to addressing the allegations that have been swirling around the last several months."
Brian Butler, who represents Betts, said he and his client are "disappointed" with the indictment but "looking forward" to seeing the evidence in the case.
"It's incredibly difficult on him and his family," Butler said.
LMPD reassigned Wood in October amid the investigation, and Officer Betts quit in April 2014 after complaints came to light. LMPD Chief Steve Conrad said in a statement that he has "signed a letter of intent to terminate which will be tendered to Brandon Wood today."
A preliminary criminal investigation was turned over to the Jefferson Commonwealth's Attorney's Office on Feb. 7. Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Chris Foster is handling the case.
A lawsuit, filed last month, by Metro Council President and attorney David Yates, claims Betts and Wood raped a male teenager - identified by the initials N.C. - between 2011 and 2013 while he was in the Explorer program and accuses the department of covering up the case.
On Wednesday, Yates said he represents four victims, though three had not yet been added to the lawsuit. At least two of his clients appear to be alleged victim identified by their initials in the indictments, he said.
"I think the evidence is overwhelming that you had police officers in positions of authority over minors who did horrific acts towards the minors," Yates said in an interview. "I think the evidence will show that they were on notice and no action was taken to stop the abuse or protect those minors or future minors."
The lawsuit claims the alleged victim was "sexually abused" in homes, vehicles and other locations.
Wood and Betts molested, abused and raped the teen and recorded the sexual acts, according to the suit.
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.
Police are also accused of falsifying reports, deleting phone records and audio files and destroying other records.
In addition to the lawsuit, a different teenager told police investigators in 2013 that Betts offered him money for sex and promised to take care of a traffic citation in exchange for sexual favors, according to police records.
That teen made the allegations against Betts during an inquiry into Betts’ relationship with a different participant of the program, a 16-year-old girl who claims the officer texted her shirtless pictures of himself and asked to meet her and “make out."
Yates said he is representing the 16-year-old but she has not yet joined the lawsuit.
The internal investigation by the department’s professional standards unit found that Betts violated police procedures but committed no criminal acts involving the girl.
But there was no investigation into the male teenager’s allegations at the time, a police source said, and Betts avoided any discipline by leaving the department.
Conrad closed the case “by exception” when Betts resigned, saying “no further action need be taken.”
Conrad has declined multiple interview requests in recent weeks. Alicia Smiley, a spokeswoman for the department, has said Conrad could not talk until the civil lawsuit was unsealed by a judge. Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman unsealed the suit Monday, but Conrad has not responded to interview requests this week.
On Wednesday, Chief Conrad issued the following statement:
"While I am frustrated that I cannot talk about the specific details of the Explorer case because of pending civil litigation, I want to provide you an update following the events that took place today. As you know, indictments were handed down against both Brandon Wood and Kenneth Betts. Following the return of those indictments, I signed a letter of intent to terminate which will be tendered to Brandon Wood today. The criminal indictments followed the Public Integrity Unit investigation.
To clarify, the Public Integrity Unit conducts criminal investigations which focus on violations of criminal law. The Professional Standards Unit conducts administrative investigations which are focused on specific violations of department rules, policies, and procedures. Administrative investigations are limited in scope, by law, to possible violations related to the incident being investigated. Should the PSU investigator become aware of additional administrative violation during the course of the investigation, this violation will be addressed. The investigator may not however use the investigation as an opportunity to search for unrelated policy violations.
Unlike criminal investigations, once an employee leaves the department, the employee is no longer subject to administrative discipline; therefore, the administrative investigation will end. Criminal Investigations, alternatively, can continue regardless of employment status.
Because the criminal investigation into this matter is still ongoing and due to the pending litigation, I can say nothing further at this time."
Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Wine said in a statement that his office was first notified of the allegations against the officers in October and received an investigative report from police in February.
"! believe that the Public Integrity Unit has conducted a thorough investigation of charges relating to these officers specifically and the LMPD Explorer program generally," Wine said. "Notwithstanding these indictments, the Public Integrity Unit is continuing its investigation."
The Explorer program mentors teens interested in becoming police officers. Students work closely with officers at events such as the Kentucky Derby.
Although the 2013 internal investigation into Betts has long been over, police have refused to release it in full, saying state law requires that only the probe’s initiation letter and conclusions are public record.
In the 2013 case, the female teen said Betts’ repeated advances prompted her to bring it to the attention of other officers in the program, sources said, adding there was no sexual contact between the two.
Some of the texts between the girl and Betts are included in the internal investigation.
The other Explorer mentioned in the 2013 investigation, a male described in his late teens, did not file a complaint but told other officers about Betts’ behavior, sources say. The teen said Betts asked him for sexual favors in person while riding along with the officer, and through text messages, according to sources’ description of the investigation.
The teen also told police Betts asked him for group sex and for the officer to perform oral sex on him.
At one point, when the teen received a traffic ticket outside Jefferson County, Betts told him he would take care of it for sexual favors, according to those close to the investigation. Betts also offered the teen money for sex, but the teen said he repeatedly declined the offers.
Sources said the teen reported the conduct to Wood, who reported it to his commander, Maj. Curtis Flaherty. Flaherty, along with Betts and Wood, are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Metro Council members and police officers have said the 2013 case should have prompted Conrad to conduct a criminal investigation then.
Metro Council member David James, a former Louisville police officer, said “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.
“A comprehensive, top-to-bottom investigation should have been done to ensure the safety of all the kids in the program,” James has said.
But when Betts resigned, there was no further investigation of the program until allegations surfaced against Wood last year, including videos of sex acts, sources said.
It is typical for police to close a case under investigation by the professional standards unit when an officer leaves.
In his resignation letter from March 2014, Betts said although he was due for a promotion, he had accepted another opportunity to finish his doctorate degree, and his time with the department would come to an end on May 1, 2014.
The department's Public Integrity Unit conducts criminal investigations of officers. Those cases do not end with an officer's resignation or retirement.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer temporarily suspended the Explorer program amid the accusations. The mayor has also appointed a special investigator, former U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey, to conduct a special investigation into what he called “disturbing” allegations.
The FBI has also launched a criminal investigation.
Councilwoman Angela Leet said "we can't get straight answers" about the LMPD investigation and "if problems happen to be at chief level," then the mayor "needs to address that."
"It's a travesty what happened," she said.
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