Kentucky Police Explorer Sexual Abuse Lawsuit May Be the Tip of the Iceberg

A 22-year-old man identified only as “N.C.” in court documents filed a sexual abuse lawsuit alleging he was sexually abused as a teenager when he was a member of the Louisville Metro Police Youth Explorer Program. Explorers is an affiliate of Boy Scouts of America.

The lawsuit names as Defendants the City of Louisville, the Boy Scouts of America, a former Louisville police officer, and a current officer. Jefferson Circuit Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman granted a motion by the Plaintiff’s attorney to seal the pleadings in the lawsuit.

The Courier-Journal, a local newspaper, revealed that “N.C.” alleges that Officer Brandon Wood and former Officer Kenneth Betts had sex with the plaintiff when he was either underage or when they were in a position of authority over him. It also alleges that the misconduct was reported to a supervisor and that the supervisor and the department were negligent in responding.

Law enforcement Explorer programs are designed to foster interest in law enforcement careers and are open to teenagers from 14 to 19 years old.

Betts was removed from his post as an Associate Adviser with the program by the police department in 2013 after he was accused of inappropriate behavior. He later resigned as a police officer.

Wood, an eight-year department veteran, is on administrative assignment.

Betts and Wood were both Explorers themselves before joining the department, and Betts was named Explorer of the Year.

The Explorer program is administered by Learning for Life, a Boy Scouts of America subsidiary formed in 1991. Its programs, which extend beyond law enforcement, provide more than 110,000 young people each year the chance for hand-on workplace participation in fields ranging from aviation to architecture to the law.

The Kentucky Explorer sex abuse case is not an isolated incident. For decades, there have been reports, investigations, and arrests of police officers engaging in the sexual abuse and exploitation of minors who are involved in the Explorer program.

The San Francisco Weekly reports, “In 2003, Samuel Walker, a professor at the University of Nebraska and a leading scholar on police misconduct, was researching a follow-up to a report he’d published a year earlier. In “Driving While Female,” Walker had shed light on the phenomenon of police officers sexually harassing and assaulting women they’d pulled over for traffic infractions. Walker reported discovering an average of nearly 20 cases per year of police officers doing everything from forcing women to walk home in their underwear to raping them in their cars after pulling them over. His findings, he said, were ‘clearly the tip of the iceberg.’

As Walker scoured the Internet to prepare an update, he stumbled upon a different trend: Police officers sexually assaulting Explorers. ‘Just by changing around the search terms, we were able to find a large number of these cases,’ he says.

In all, Walker listed 32 cases of police officers sexually exploiting Explorers, many involving multiple officers, multiple Explorers, or both. Many more cases had surely eluded his radar, he said, either because they were never reported, were hushed up, or simply didn’t appear in his online searches.”

The San Francisco Weekly article also noted, “a review of Explorer sex abuses dating back to the 1970s shows that the Boy Scouts and Learning for Life waited years to enact rules barring inappropriate contact between police and Explorers. And once these rules were in place, the Boy Scouts and Learning for Life have not enforced them, mostly leaving police departments to police themselves.”

The same lack of enforcement of rules and policies occurred in this Kentucky case. The Courier-Journal reports that Wood took boys in the Explorer program on camping trips, despite rules prohibiting the police adults from socializing or engaging in outside activities with the youth members. Such camping trips without other adults present would also violate Boy Scout “two-deep” and “no one-on-one” rules.

Also, another former Explorer said that on an Explorer out-of-town trip, Wood had too many drinks at a baseball game and in a van afterward, leaned against boys in the program, and put his head on their shoulders. In addition to violating Boy Scout’s prohibition on alcohol consumption at Scout activities, Wood’s inappropriately intimate conduct should have been a red flag.

Finally, Wood also had boys from Explorers over to his home. This was not only a violation of the rules of the Explorer program and BSA, but a common technique of child molesters seeking to isolate their victims. Many of BSA’s Ineligible Volunteer Files on other child molesters kicked out of Scouting for sexually abusing children show adult volunteers bringing minors to their homes in order to sexually abuse them. BSA should have a rule – for Explorers as well as other Scout programs – expressly prohibiting visits to adult volunteers’ homes, but they don’t.

Clearly, there is a problem in the Explorer program and it’s a nationwide problem that has been found in both large and small police departments. The Explorer program may have rules on paper, but unless those rules are enforced, the youth participants are not safe from sexual abuse and exploitation from the adult leaders they trust.

 

Dumas Law Group has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, California, and other states.

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