Louisville police officers indicted in sex abuse scandal
The scandal in the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Youth Explorer Program, which Mayor Fischer already described as “our worst nightmare,” escalated Wednesday when two police officers in the program were indicted on sex abuse charges involving three potential victims, including one case where force was alleged.
After a six-month investigation, a Jefferson County grand jury indicted Officer Brandon Wood on seven counts of sexual abuse, each punishable by up to five years in prison, and former Officer Kenneth Betts on two counts of sodomy, one of which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years.
The indictment also charges that the crimes stretch to 2007.
Wood is accused of using his position of trust or authority to sexually abuse a minor identified as N.C., who already filed a lawsuit making that and other allegations.
But the counts against Betts expand the scope of the case, with a new accusation that he sexually assaulted two additional people, identified as C.M. and C.F.
The most serious count accuses him of engaging in deviate sexual intercourse with C.M. through the use of forcible compulsion.
More LMPD scandal coverage
►Louisville police sex-abuse case unsealed by judge
►Cop visited children's hospital amid misconduct probe
►FBI opens criminal investigation of Youth Explorer program
►Ex-Explorer says she questioned cop's behavior
It doesn't specify if that alleged victim was an Explorer Scout, and Jeff Cooke, a spokesman for the commonwealth's attorney's office, declined to say if he or she participated in the program.
Police Chief Steve Conrad said in a statement Wednesday posted on the department's Facebook page that he will fire Wood now that he has been indicted. He had been stripped of his police powers and placed on an administrative assignment since allegations against him surfaced last October. Betts resigned in 2014 as he was facing an internal complaint over possible "improper contact" with a girl in the Explorer program.
Judge Angela McCormick Bisig ordered the arrests of both defendants, who were not in the courtroom when the indictments were returned. At the request of the commonwealth, which cited the seriousness of charges and that both defendants present a threat to the public, she ordered their arrests and set full cash bonds — $15,000 for Betts and $10,000 for Wood. Cooke said the office requested more on Betts because he faces more serious charges.
Wood surrendered to police Wednesday evening. His attorney, Steve Schroering, said Wood maintains his innocence and will enter a not guilty plea. "We ... look forward to finally being able to address the allegations that have been swirling around for the last several months," Schroering said.
Betts' criminal defense lawyer, Brian Butler, said his client was disappointed by the indictment but looks forward to "getting in court and seeing the basis of these allegations." Butler said Betts would surrender "expeditiously."
Both defendants are scheduled to be arraigned April 17, Wood by Jefferson Circuit Judge Ann Bailey Smith and Betts by the judge assigned that day in Division 2, from which Judge James Shake recently retired. Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Chris Foster is the prosecutor in both cases.
The indictments cap a Public Integrity Unit investigation that began last October when Wood was placed on a desk duty for what was described as “very concerning” allegations. The Courier-Journal and other news outlets later reported that the investigation also involved Betts.
The criminal charges mirror some of those in a lawsuit filed last month on behalf of N.C., a former Scout who alleged that Wood and Betts sexually assaulted him at their homes and in police vehicles.
The indictment, however, does not address accusations in the suit that the department concealed the allegations and does not name one of the defendants in the suit, Maj. Curtis Flaherty, who ran the program. It is also silent on when Conrad first knew about the allegations and what he did in response.
Cooke said the Public Integrity Unit investigation is continuing and the possibility of additional indictments depends upon what other information surfaces.
In his Facebook statement, Conrad, who previously said he couldn't comment because N.C.'s lawsuit was sealed, said, "I can say nothing further at this time" because the "criminal investigation into this matter is still ongoing and due to the pending litigation."
Wood is charged in all counts with engaging in sexual contact with N.C. when he was less than 18 years of age and while Wood was in a position of authority or special trust. The age of consent in Kentucky is normally 16, but it rises to 18 when the adult is in a position of trust.
Besides the count involving C.M., Betts was charged with a lesser count of sodomy accusing him of engaging in deviate sexual intercourse with C.F., who was less than 18 years old while Betts was in a position of special trust or authority.
Attorney David Yates, who is representing N.C. in the civil suit, said Wednesday that he doesn't think the criminal case will delay the litigation despite the possibility that witnesses will exercise their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
"The criminal indictment is the first step in a positive direction to achieve justice, which is long overdue," he said. "There has to be a criminal prosecution of police officers who abuse youth they have under their control and authority."
Yates said he is representing three other former Explorers, one of whom is C.F., who allege abuse by officers.
Fischer last month suspended the Explorer program, which offers training and work experience for youths ages 14-19 interested in careers as police officers.
The FBI also has confirmed that it is investigating whether the civil rights of Explorer Scouts may have been violated.
Fischer also retained former U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey to explore whether the department covered up the allegations, although his investigation was briefly put on hold after a Metro Council committee questioned the special investigation's independence and scope. The same committee approved Harvey's $50,000 contract Wednesday afternoon.
Former Explorers have said in interviews that Wood had male Scouts over to his home and took them camping, in violation of rules that prohibit fraternizing with Scouts outside official functions. An Explorer also told the Courier-Journal that Betts tried to have a relationship with a teenage girl in the program.
Wood, an eight-year department veteran, has been on desk duty at police headquarters but is still on the force. Betts has worked as a certified firearms instructor and worked as a local manager of safety and security for eBay.
Betts and Wood were both Explorers before joining the department, and Betts was named Explorer of the Year in 2004, two years before he became an officer.
The civil suit, filed March 8, also names the city, the police department and the Boy Scouts of America and its Lincoln Heritage Council as defendants.
The suit claims N.C. was abused from 2011, when he became a Scout, until 2013, and that it occurred when he was between 17 and 19 years old.
The complaint alleges the city, police and Boy Scouts knew or should have known of the "conduct and proclivities" of Betts and Wood.
A Boy Scouts spokeswoman has said that “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."
At the request of the Courier-Journal and other parties, Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman unsealed the lawsuit on Monday and will hear arguments May 3 on a motion to identify N.C. by name.
Reporter Andrew Wolfson can be reached at 502-582-7189 or email@example.com Reporter Phillip Bailey can be reached at 502-582-4475 or firstname.lastname@example.org.