Public service was in his blood.
His father served in both the local fire and police departments, and his brothers preceded him in the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Youth Explorer career mentorship program. His interest in becoming a police officer led him to enroll in the mentorship program when he was about 14.
"C.F.," who uses a pseudonym to protect his identity in a civil lawsuit, said that what should have been a golden opportunity to learn about law enforcement became a nightmare of exploitation and sexual abuse.
C.F. is one of seven people to file civil lawsuits against current and former LMPD officers who served as advisers in the Youth Explorer program. All plaintiffs filed under pseudonyms to protect their identities. He detailed his alleged abuse in a 2018 interview with Fox News.
His story shows an alleged pattern of grooming, coercion and sexual assault by former officer Kenneth Betts, as well as a lack of accountability by police leadership.
Betts is married with a young daughter. The disgraced officer resigned from the Louisville Metro Police Department on March 24, 2014, following an internal investigation into an inappropriate relationship the officer allegedly had with a teenage female Explorer cadet.
“It was beyond, like, friendly conversations,” C.F. said. “[Betts] would ask for nude pictures. Ask for favors. Stuff like that. Ask if I would want to go work details or do ride-alongs with him.”
When he and “N.C.” – another former Explorer cadet who also filed suit in Louisville – were between the ages of 15 and 17, C.F. said Betts would often initiate inappropriate actions with the teens.
"From there, it led on to him giving us oral sex and us giving him oral sex. And it led to him – penetrating me and N.C.”
One night, Betts picked them up to help him move paperwork from the office to his home. After the task, he offered the minors alcohol and allegedly began to “come on to” them in unwanted ways. C.F. said he felt coerced and pressured by the power Betts had over his career ambitions and opportunities within the program.
“I had about two or three [drinks], and I had a buzz. And that’s when he pulled us back into his room, started taking our clothes off and kind of pushed us onto the bed,” he said. “And from there, it led on to him giving us oral sex and us giving him oral sex. And it led to him – penetrating me and N.C.”
The allegations of the sexual abuse, harassment, coercion and inappropriate actions during ride-alongs, where cadets would join officers on patrol, are recurring themes in Louisville and similar Explorer scandals across the country.
C.F.’s story is just one of many that have helped lawyers, local politicians and prosecutors piece together a picture of sexual abuse, negligence and cover-up within the program and police department. It adds to a growing list of abuses by officers involved in the nationwide program spanning decades. C.F.’s lawsuit also helps establish a pattern of allegedly sexually abusive behavior by Betts specifically.
STIRRING A HORNET’S NEST
In March 2016, a former Youth Explorer cadet with accusations of sexual abuse approached Louisville Metro Councilman David Yates. At the time, Yates was council president, and understandably hesitant about suing the city he represents. He said he needed incontrovertible evidence to file suit – and he got it.
“Pictures of the genitalia of the abuses that [the officers] had sent them,” Yates said. “This was something that – this was when you realized that this is real.”
Yates and other attorneys said about 15 victims have come forward with stories of abuse. Fearing public embarrassment and retaliation from the defendants, only seven – less than half – agreed to file lawsuits, fearing public embarrassment and retaliation. Those who did file only agreed to under assurances that their identities would remain private.
Eventually, Yates would drop from the litigation due to his role in local government. Local attorney Tad Thomas took over the lawsuits, and has been advocating for the plaintiffs since.
"I felt the need to at least follow up to investigate, to look. And as I did -- it became overly evident that several youth had been abused."
Yates filed the first lawsuit on behalf on N.C. on March 8, 2017. Former officers Betts and Brandon Wood are the primary accused abusers in the lawsuits. Also named were Maj. Curtis Flaherty, Chief Steve Conrad, Mayor Greg Fischer, as well as the Boy Scouts of America and Learning for Life – the two parent organizations of the Youth Explorer program. Flaherty was in charge of the local chapter.
“It just seemed so far-fetched that I maybe didn’t want to believe it,” Yates said. “I felt the need to at least follow up to investigate, to look. And as I did – it became overly evident that several youth had been abused.”
All defendants are named in multiple lawsuits. In total, the lawsuits name more than eight current or former LMPD officers.
At the center of the scandal are three former LMPD officers: the aforementioned Betts, Wood, and Flaherty, who ran the local Explorers program.
All three have left the force, and Betts and Wood are charged with sex crimes in both state and federal courts; each officer pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing.
Wood pled guilty to a federal attempted enticement charges and is scheduled to be sentenced May 28.
Betts pled guilty to federal enticement and and child pornography charges and will be sentenced May 23, although that date could be delayed.
Betts struck a plea deal that had him serve 10 to 15 years in prison, but the judge suggested the deal might be too lenient. Federal sentencing guidelines, according to US District Court Judge David Hale, call for a 27-year sentence for Betts. He’s also expected to plea guilty to state charges of sodomy, according to local news reports.
Attorneys for Betts and Wood would not comment or make their clients available for interviews. Similarly, LMPD officials did not respond to a number of requests for comment. Multiple attempts to reach Flaherty at his home were unsuccessful.
Flaherty has not been charged criminally for his role as supervisor of the local Explorer chapter. He has been named in all seven lawsuits filed by former cadets, with each plaintiff alleging the former officer acted negligently.
His attorney, Lee Sitlinger, said he expects the court to dismiss the allegations against his client.
“[They’re] basically claiming that he negligently supervised these officers who were volunteers as well in the program,” Sitlinger said. “The evidence would show the contrary. He ran a very safe program.”
To date, the LMPD Youth Explorer scandal has cast the police department into public scrutiny and tallied countless local headlines. The alleged misconduct by former officers Betts, Wood and Flaherty pulled a former U.S. Attorney into the fray as an independent investigator – costing taxpayers $140,000.
While the saga continues to unfold, plaintiffs in Louisville await justice.
If you or a loved one has stories of sexual abuse in any Youth Explorer program across the nation, please reach out to Andrew Keiper by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.