Two Louisville police officers have been accused of sexually assaulting a teenage boy participating in the police’s Explorer Program. Rachel Aretakis/Courier-Journal
Police did not thoroughly document an investigation into whether former Officer Kenneth Betts had improper contact with a 16-year-old Explorer Scout, according to records in a criminal sex abuse case against him and another former officer.
Also, at least one former police investigator who talked to the girl has questioned whether then-Lt. Curtis Flaherty should have been directing the 2013 investigation into her sexual harassment claims at all.
The department’s Public Integrity Unit did not record audio of the interview with the girl and her parents, the records show. And no police notes from the interview are known to exist, either.
Betts and another former officer, Brandon Wood, were indicted this year on several charges of sex abuse in connection with their time as advisers in the Explorer Scout program run by police. Both have pleaded not guilty.
The investigators should have at the very least documented the interview, said retired Capt. Buddy Dumeyer, who was the first commander of the department’s Public Integrity Unit. He also said the investigation shouldn’t have been led by Flaherty, who was head of the integrity unit but was also in charge of the Explorer program for youths interested in law enforcement.
The girl’s mother alleges that Flaherty urged the family to keep quiet about the situation, according to court records.
“If it was something I was involved in, Explorers or anything else, I would say it is best that I recuse myself from being involved in that investigation and let my boss oversee it so that there was no potential conflict of interest,” Dumeyer said.
Police Chief Steve Conrad’s office declined to comment for this story when contacted by email. Louisville police spokesman Dwight Mitchell said the Courier-Journal’s questions “would require a response that would be premature for us to make” because of the criminal case against Betts and Wood.
Former Explorers in the program have told the Courier-Journal that Flaherty and Betts had a close relationship. The two had known each other since Betts was in the Explorer program, and Flaherty wrote a recommendation letter when Betts joined the force in 2006.
Attorney Lee Sitlinger, who is representing Flaherty, said in an Oct. 14 email that he had not reviewed the documents in the criminal case but that his client was always careful to recuse himself from situations where a potential conflict existed.
Sitlinger said Flaherty — who retired Aug. 1 at the rank of major — took immediate action upon learning of the girl’s allegation.
Attorney David Yates, who has filed a civil suit on behalf of a former Explorer alleging that the police tried to conceal sex abuse in the program, said the documents show Flaherty is entrenched in a cover-up.
“It falls right in line with what I’ve been saying for months that very bad people abused their authority and hurt children, and other people helped them cover it up,” said Yates, who is also the Metro Council president.
When the mother of the teen was re-interviewed by police in 2016, she said Betts had sent her daughter photos of himself “half-dressed” and that the photos were “just kind of sexual-looking pictures.”
But because the 2013 interview was not documented or recorded, it is unknown “what questions may have been asked or what statements were made” by the girl or her mother at the time, according to the court records.
The three officers at the 2013 interview, which occurred in the family’s home, were former integrity unit Sgts. Jacqueline Smith and John Polin and Officer Julie Schmidt, who was an adviser in the Explorer program.
Smith and Polin, who now works in Mayor Greg Fischer’s security detail, said they didn’t record the interview. Smith told investigators last year that she probably took notes on the interview but couldn’t locate them.
Polin referred all questions to the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Smith and Schmidt, who has since retired, could not be reached for comment.
In the documents, Schmidt said she attended the interview with the female Explorer at the girl’s request. She told investigators last year that she remembered the girl being very upset about the texts, which Schmidt said included Betts asking the girl to meet him behind a church.
Schmidt said she didn’t remember anybody taking notes.
Dumeyer said that during his time as commander of the Public Integrity Unit, investigators always documented their interviews in some way once a serious allegation was made. He said there were exceptions to recording them, such as when officers are working with uncooperative witnesses or victims at their home, but that written notes were used as a substitute.
“In almost every interview our standard practice was to record all interviews of potential witnesses and victims,” Dumeyer said. “You generally almost always take notes because I can never remember not taking notes.”
Smith, the former integrity unit sergeant, also told investigators that she thought in hindsight that Flaherty wasn’t the best person to make any decisions about the investigation, according to court documents.
Dumeyer told the Courier-Journal it would have been in the police department’s best interest for Flaherty to have turned that initial interview over to a supervisor.
“On that particular part I’m just going to be real frank with you, I would have talked to my boss. … And I think my major would have said, ‘Buddy you’re out,’ ” he said. “And I think in that type of situation you want to have eyes and investigators looking at it who have no connection to the program itself to again avoid any potential conflict of interest.”
Smith, Polin and Schmidt all told investigators last October that after the interview with the girl, they found the situation “highly inappropriate” but didn’t think it rose to the level of a crime, according to the documents.
Smith said she informed Flaherty of the situation after leaving the girl’s home and that she thinks there was a meeting with Flaherty a few days later. Smith says she cannot recall anything discussed at the meeting, only that it was decided the case be forwarded to the Professional Standards Unit, court records show.
In July 2013, Chief Steve Conrad opened a Professional Standards Unit investigation into the girl’s allegation.
Smith, whose son was in the Explorer program, also told investigators last year that she had heard rumors about Betts having inappropriate contact with other Explorers but couldn’t remember if that was before or after interviewing the girl.
Polin told the police investigators he was “surprised to learn there was not a case file prepared for the incident involving Officer Betts” and the female Scout.
Schmidt told investigators she had heard rumors that Officer Wood would have parties at his house and invited Explorers. She said she never brought those rumors to Flaherty’s attention.
The court documents say Schmidt couldn’t recall hearing any rumors about Betts last year, but police noted that she admitted to hearing rumors about “inappropriate conduct” between Betts and past Explorers in an earlier interview into the teenage girl’s allegations with the standards unit.
Other law enforcement officials who spoke with integrity unit investigators said they heard similar talk about Betts and Wood, according to court records.
Richmond Police Officer Casey Scott, a former Explorer, told Louisville investigators he had heard about Betts having an inappropriate sexual encounter with an Explorer.
And an unidentified Louisville officer, who is only identified as an officer in the 5th Division, said there were rumors of Betts trying to “hook up with an Explorer,” according to court records.
In April 2014, Conrad closed the investigation into the girl’s allegation, a month after Betts submitted his resignation. “No further action need be taken,” Conrad said in an internal memo.
Betts later became a reserve officer for Audubon Park Police and was a code enforcement officer for the city of Rolling Hills. He no longer works for either one and was fired by Rolling Hills in April after the abuse allegations became public.
Reporter Phillip M. Bailey can be reached at 502-582-4475 or firstname.lastname@example.org.