Mayor Fischer temporarily suspends LMPD Youth Explorer program over sex abuse allegations

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has temporarily suspended the Louisville Metro Police Youth Explorer program after allegations of sexual abuse by officers surfaced. 

Last week, a lawsuit was filed alleging that a teenage boy was raped by two officers over several years in the program, which trains young people interested in becoming police officers.

The lawsuit was sealed by Jefferson Circuit Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman. The Courier-Journal first reported the existence of the lawsuit and its contents. 

On Monday, Mayor Fischer asked the courts to unseal the suit and announced that the program is being suspended. 

"The allegations in this lawsuit are extremely disturbing and the case needs transparency from beginning to end," Mayor Fischer said, according to the news release.

A preliminary criminal investigation was turned over to the Jefferson Commonwealth's Attorney's Office on Feb. 7. Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Wine said a prosecutor is reviewing the investigation but also is expecting more information from police. Wine declined to discuss the case further because it is still pending.

Mayor Fischer says Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad has launched investigations into the allegations.

"The allegations represent an appalling betrayal of trust and abuse of power, and threaten a program that has helped so many young men and women interested in becoming police officers and law enforcement leaders," Mayor Fischer said, according to a news release. "To restore the public's trust in this program, the proceedings must be as open as the courts will allow."

Dwight Mitchell, a spokesman for LMPD, said the mayor's press release "is the definitive word on this matter." 

Attorney David Yates, who is president of the Louisville Metro Council, filed the lawsuit last Wednesday against the city he represents, the Louisville Metro Police Department and three of its officers, claiming the teen was sexually assaulted by two officers over several years in the department's Youth Explorer Program.

Yates said he asked that the lawsuit be sealed as is required under state law in a sexual abuse case in which the allegations are more than five years old. He said Monday he would be "open to reached an agreement of some form of unsealing as long as the victim's identify is completely protected."

He said the "mental health and safety of the victim remains my top priority and I will fight to ensure that he receives justice without having to be victimized again."

The lawsuit, according to information obtained by WDRB, claims the alleged victim was "sexually abused" in homes, vehicles and other locations between 2011 and 2013.

LMPD Officer Brandon Wood and former Officer Kenneth Betts molested, abused and raped the teen and recorded the sexual acts, according to the suit. 

In addition, 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 falsification of reports, deletion of media phone records and audio files and destruction of paper evidence. 

"It literally shocks the conscience of any reasonable person to know a 16-year-old child being raped by a police officer in a position of authority, and then when he confides in another officer, a supervisor in a position of authority, and he's abused by that officer too," said Yates. "That is appalling, that is sickening, that is disgusting."

LMPD reassigned Wood in October amid the investigation, and Officer Betts quit in April 2014 after complaints came to light.

"I know that LMPD members of leadership [have] known about this through a resignation letter for almost five years," Yates said.

Both are accused of having sex with the boy between the ages of 16 and 19 -- a complaint of statutory rape due to their positions of power. The alleged victim is now in his 20s. 

"They did not come forward," said Yates. "They did not arrest...and that's unacceptable."

The Explorer program mentors teens interested in a career in law enforcement. The students work with officers at events like Thunder over Louisville and Derby.

In fact, Betts and Woods were once student Explorer themselves before joining the force. Betts was even named "Explorer of the Year." 

Yates claims their positions helped lead to a cover-up. He says the case names Betts, Wood, LMPD Maj. Curtis Flaherty, the city of Louisville, the Louisville Metro Police Department, and the Boy Scouts as defendants 

"There's been some bad, bad people in positions of authority and they have not been held accountable," Yates said. "They've been protected by other bad people."

LMPD says its criminal investigation is ongoing. 

Steve Schroering, an attorney for Woods, said he is innocent of any wrongdoing. Brian Butler, an attorney for Betts, declined to comment. 

Kelly Bedtelyon, a spokesperson for the Boy Scouts of America, also issued a written statement:

"The Lincoln Heritage Council, Boy Scouts of America, extends its deepest sympathies to any person who has been hurt by child sexual abuse. While we cannot discuss ongoing litigation, any instance of child victimization or abuse is intolerable and unacceptable. The behavior included in these allegations runs counter to everything for which the BSA stands. Once we were made aware of the allegations we took immediate action to remove Officers Wood and Betts and precluded both from any further participation in the Scouting program. Nothing is more important than the safety of our youth. The BSA seeks to prevent child abuse through a comprehensive program of education on the subject, the chartered organization leader selection process, criminal background and other checks, policies and procedures to serve as barriers to abuse and the prompt mandatory reporting of any allegation or suspicion of abuse."

But even as the case moves forward, the County Attorney posits that there is a possible conflict of interest involved with Yates serving as head of the Louisville Metro Council.

Yates says he has checked with ethics attorneys and they say it is not an issue.

"I think it's almost appalling that the response to a child rape and a cover-up say that the lawyer shouldn't bring it," Yates said.

"I am so disappointed," he added. "I am hurt, and most of all angry that this was allowed to happen."

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