The Louisville Metro Police Department is being accused of obscuring approximately 738,000 records of child sexual abuse claims involving the police mentoring program.
According to The Courier-Journal, the scandal began to unravel when police revealed in 2016 that an officer was being investigated for his conduct in the Explorer Scout program. Later that year, a 22-year-old identified as "N.C." said in a lawsuit that he was sexually assaulted by officers Kenneth Betts and Brandon Wood while he was a member of the program from the ages of 17 to 19.
Eventually, six other plaintiffs joined the suit and accused the city, the police department and former program supervisor, Lt. Curtis Flaherty of working to cover up the abuse. In March 2017, Mayor Greg Fischer shut down the Explorer Scout program.
Initially, an attorney hired by the city found the police department mismanaged sexual abuse allegations. He concluded that despite “violations of policy and mistakes in judgment,” there was no evidence of police officials conspiring to conceal the reports.
Last year, The Courier-Journal requested the police database of records for sexual abuse claims by members in the Explorer Scout program but were told that the FBI confiscated all of the data. Assistant Jefferson County Attorney Annale Taylor wrote in a letter to the newspaper that "when the investigation was taken by the FBI, all copies of the investigative materials… were physically removed from the premises, digital devices and servers of LMPD."
However, three months earlier, LMPD Sgt. Robert Banta said in an email that he could provide any documentation related to the program up to the start of the FBI investigation on April 1, 2017.
“All that information still resides in the PIU (Professional Integrity Unit) case file and is available to the county attorney’s office,” Banta said in an email dated June 6, 2019. The police sergeant told the newspaper that he would comply with locating and obtaining the records.
On Sept. 8, 2019, The Courier-Journal revealed that the LMPD had found more than 9,000 documents in a “hidden folder.” After the files were discovered, the city’s information tech team said it removed the records and gave them to the FBI. But, the publication learned that far more documents were unearthed and deleted.
"The Explorer case represents a total breakdown in trust between police and teens who had an interest in the law enforcement profession," Courier-Journal Editor Richard Green said. "To now dodge the public's access to these documents speaks to an institutional disregard for the Open Records Act and the very residents LMPD is to serve and protect. My frustration with how it's been handled only underscores our commitment to dig even deeper and hold those in power to account."
In an Oct. 21 letter to the publication's lawyers, Assistant County Attorney Roy Denny acknowledged 9,700 folders containing 738,000 documents had been found in a clandestine folder.
“It’s very disturbing to me that either the county attorney’s office or the police department was so dead-set on making sure those records never reached the public,” Metro Council President David James said Wednesday.
This week, Councilman Anthony Piagentini wrote in a tweet that "there aren’t the appropriate words to describe how indefensible this is. The administration oversaw the sexual exploitation of minors and then deleted evidence."
There aren’t the appropriate words to describe how indefensible this is. This Administration oversaw the sexual exploitation of minors and then deleted evidence. I will be speaking with my colleagues about next steps to hold this Administration accountable. https://t.co/oeh8uLOwcW
— Councilman Anthony Piagentini (@CMPiagentini) November 11, 2020
Kenyon Meyer, a lawyer brought in by the county attorney’s office to investigate, said his review is pending but insisted that he has found no evidence of wrongdoing or a violation of the Open Records Act. Meyer also said none of the evidence was deleted.
However, lawyers for the newspaper contended that the city effectively destroyed the evidence despite what was suggested in reviews.
"They have destroyed their ability to comply with the open records law, and they did it purposely, and they didn’t tell the truth about it,” Courier-Journal Attorney Jon Fleischaker said. "They can't require us to go elsewhere to get those documents."
After its Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI was denied, Courier-Journal lawyers questioned the authenticity of city officials to work with the newspaper in uncovering the scandal.
"The law requires them to truthfully tell us what records they have in their possession," Fleischaker said. "The law requires them to maintain the integrity of the documents. What they did is quite the opposite. That is a violation of the open records law and potentially a violation of the law of tampering with evidence."
On Monday, County Attorney Mike O’Connell released a statement saying he hired Mayer to ensure the review of the paper’s allegation is conducted thoroughly and fairly.
"The newspaper made significant claims, and I felt it was important to engage someone at the highest level with no connection to my office to assist in this matter,” O'Connell said. My immediate action should show that I take the matter seriously."
According to local station WLKY, on Wednesday, a third Louisville officer was charged with abusing minors in the Explorer Scout program.
Brad Schuhmann was indicted earlier this month in federal court for allegedly sexually abusing a young girl in 2010. Schuhmann later resigned following his indictment.
Officers Wood and Betts pleaded guilty to criminal charges after the FBI opened an investigation into the program in April 2017, according to The Courier-Journal. Wood, 34, was sentenced to 70 months in prison for attempted enticement of a minor, while Betts, 36, was sentenced to 16 years on child pornography and enticement charges.
According to The Courier-Journal, the lawsuits and criminal review are ongoing.