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Louisville mayor asks FBI to investigate police department after sex abuse allegations

By James Higdon Special to the Washington Post

LOUISVILLE – A former participant in a Boy Scouts-affiliated career apprentice program for teenagers has alleged that two Louisville Metro Police Department officers sexually abused him in their homes and vehicles while they were working with him, and the city’s mayor has asked the FBI to look into the police department’s actions.

The accuser has alleged that the officers assaulted and raped him from when the boy was 17 years old until he was 19, at times filming the sex acts. He also alleged that police department officials – including the police chief and the head of internal affairs – knew about and covered up the assaults, which allegedly occurred while the victim was taking part in the Youth Explorer program to learn about policing and criminal justice as a potential career path.

The investigation appears to have begun in September, when Louisville police executed a search warrant at the home of officer Brandon Wood. There, investigators found videos of a sexual nature that allegedly involved the victim and Wood. Another police officer, Kenneth Betts, is also accused of abusing the victim. Betts left the force in 2013; Wood remains a police officer and is on administrative assignment. No charges have been filed in the case.

Steve Schroering, a lawyer who represents Wood, said his client “maintains his innocence.” Brian Butler, a lawyer representing Betts, did not respond to a request for comment.

Alicia Smiley, a spokeswoman for the Louisville Metro Police Department, also declined to comment on the case, saying the department is “prohibited from speaking on the current investigation” because of a lawsuit the victim has filed and a criminal investigation into the matter.

Two sources with knowledge of the case said authorities are trying to determine if there are more victims.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has asked the FBI to look into the allegations, and the FBI confirmed to The Washington Post that it has been requested to investigate the Louisville police department’s Youth Explorer program.

“We are reviewing that request and the allegations surrounding the Explorer program,” FBI Louisville Field Office Chief Counsel David Habish wrote in an email to The Post.

Louisville Metro Councilman David James, chairman of the city’s public safety committee, also confirmed the FBI’s involvement in the case: “The FBI is examining the situation to determine whether federal crimes have been committed.”

The victim, now in his early 20s, filed a lawsuit against the two officers, The Boy Scouts of America, the city of Louisville, the police department, and the leader of the department’s Explorers program. That civil case has been sealed but was made public this month when the Courier-Journal newspaper reported its existence in several stories that have rocked the city’s political and law enforcement establishments. The FBI last week began a review of the mayor’s request to investigate the Explorers program during the time period the plaintiff was involved in it. City officials said the police department’s Youth Explorer program has been suspended.

David Yates, an attorney representing the victim and two others who allege they, too, were abused, said they have been patient, hoping for justice that never came.

“They had hoped there would be some sort of criminal prosecution, and there was not,” said Yates, who is also president of the Louisville Metro Council. “I believe that most of the men and women in the police department who put their lives on the line for our community are supportive of holding accountable the individuals who hurt children and those who might have covered up their actions.”

After the Courier-Journal reported news of the lawsuit, Fischer announced an independent investigation into the allegations, headed by former U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey, in addition to requesting the FBI to review the case.

“We have to get to the bottom of these disturbing allegations – for ourselves, for our citizens, for the thousands of LMPD officers who are honest, compassionate, courageous people of integrity,” Mayor Fischer said in a news release. “We need to know the truth. And, most importantly, for the victims of anyone who may have committed a crime while wearing an LMPD uniform. We have to get the whole story – and we will.”

A potential charge of statutory rape, according to Kentucky law, can apply when a victim is younger than 16, unless the alleged offender is in a position of authority over the victim, when the age rises to 18.

The police department sponsors the youth program for “Law Enforcement Exploring,” and it is open to anyone who has completed 6th grade or is up to 20 years old and who has an interest in a career in law enforcement or within the criminal justice system. Exploring is a worksite-based program of Learning for Life, a subsidiary of Boy Scouts of America. It offers apprentice-style programs to give teenagers hands-on experience in a range of career fields including law enforcement, health care, fire and EMS, and aviation.

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