Metro Council members of both parties held a press conference Thursday to call for an independent investigation into LMPD scandal. | Photo by Joe Sonka

A bipartisan group of 11 Metro Council members have called for an outside and independent investigation of the rape and cover-up allegations surrounding the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Youth Explorer program. Councilman David James, D-6, a former LMPD detective, said at a press conference Thursday afternoon that officers have suggested to him that a cover-up has taken place within the police department, and that the FBI should be the ones conducting the independent investigation.

A lawsuit was filed last week against the city, LMPD and two officers — one former and one current — alleging the two officers had raped a teenage boy who was in the program and that the department subsequently covered it up. The lawsuit — filed by Council President David Yates, who is representing the alleged victim — remains sealed, though Mayor Greg Fischer suspended the Explorer program after The Courier-Journal wrote about the case.

Mayoral spokesman Chris Poynter issued a statement on Monday saying LMPD Chief Steve Conrad launched an investigation into the allegations when they surfaced, and that the investigation is ongoing. Asked when exactly those allegations surfaced from LMPD’s perspective, police spokesman Dwight Mitchell stated that its Public Integrity Unit launched the investigation into the program in September 2016. However, on Wednesday evening, the LMPD revealed that one of the accused officers had been investigated in 2013 over alleged improper contact with a teenage girl in the Explorer program; Chief Conrad ended that investigation when the officer resigned the following year.

Asked by WFPL reporter Jake Ryan on Thursday morning if he knew about any police cover-up of the investigation before the allegations were reported, a clearly aggravated Mayor Fischer called that a “leading question… that you’re more professional than to ask.” By the afternoon — when council members from each party had already called for an independent investigation in the matter and were minutes away from beginning their press conference — Poynter released a statement announcing that “at the request of the LMPD, the Attorney General’s Office has provided assistance in this matter. We appreciate council members for offering ideas on how to ensure all the facts emerge.”

Councilman James led off the press conference, calling the growing allegations “alarming to us” and of “great concern,” and “because of that, we feel like we need to have an outside independent investigation of the allegations that have been made against the actions – or the lack of actions – as it relates to LMPD.”

“When we say that, we’re really talking about someone with the authority and the power of the FBI,” said James. “The FBI is the authority to make arrests, investigate, use search warrants and subpoenas and power to use the allegation of perjury against a person that may not tell them the truth. For those reasons, we believe that in order to instill integrity and appreciation for our police department…we need to have someone from the outside look at what has taken place and what hasn’t taken place over this period of time.”

James later told reporters that he already has asked the FBI to look into the matter, as the public and investigators need to know “who knew what, when?”

James and Councilman James Peden, R-23, told reporters that they already had heard about and begun to look into the allegations before the story broke in the media, and that officers had warned them about an alleged cover-up. Asked if he is aware of any other alleged victims related to the police program, Peden paused to choose his words carefully, then answered: “It’s a big city. And it’s a big police force. And what I’ve heard about and what I can prove are two different things. So take that statement for what it’s worth.”

Asked how much of the responsibility falls on the leadership of LMPD, Chief Conrad and people in his command, James replied “I think that this whole thing lies on the leadership of this community… the police chief and the mayor.” Asked if Conrad should be fired, James said that was up to Mayor Fischer, who he said should personally ask the FBI to investigate.

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]