Troubleshooters: Emails contradict state agency’s claims about alleged sexual misconduct involving officer, minors

Newly obtained emails show more than a dozen staff members at an embattled juvenile detention facility knew of inappropriate conduct claims against a correction
Published: Nov. 9, 2023 at 7:25 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 10, 2023 at 6:37 AM EST
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CAMPBELL COUNTY, Ky. (WAVE) - Newly obtained emails show more than a dozen staff members at an embattled juvenile detention facility knew of inappropriate conduct claims against a correction officer for two weeks before it was reported to police.

The emails also show one employee tried to get the issue addressed by sending it up the chain while another employee said he wanted to “make sure” it had already been reported.

Meanwhile, the mother of one of the alleged victims in the case says the state dropped the ball.

“I was excited because I wanted a girl,” she told us. “I got my girl. She was perfect.”

We are not naming the mother to protect the identity of the teen involved.

The mom explained her daughter, who is now 13, had been sexually assaulted at a young age and that her behavior hasn’t been the same since.

“You could tell she was just angry all the time,” the mother recalled. “She wouldn’t listen, breaking things.”

“Fighting the police.”

The child’s escalating problems would land her at the Campbell County Juvenile Detention facility located at the tip of Northern Kentucky.

“This is a locked-in facility,” the mother said. “You would think they would be safe there.”

What she didn’t know then was that a corrections officer was being accused of having sexual relationships with the teen detainees.

The accusations against that officer, Neil Moorman were uncovered through a series of open record requests by WAVE News Troubleshooters.

“He would take some of the girls into the closet,” the mother described her daughter telling her. “That he’s kissed her though. That is what she did tell me. And I pray to God that’s all that’s happened.”

Internal documents from Kentucky’s Department of Juvenile Justice show the allegations included kissing and groping, among other sexual acts. The documents claim Moorman was writing love letters to the teens and engaging with them for “personal sexual satisfaction.”

“Everybody knew about it,” one of the teens told the state’s internal investigators.

New emails obtained by WAVE News Troubleshooters show staff members were aware of some of the allegations.

“I think the state handled the allegations very poorly,” Attorney Tad Thomas said. “There should have been action taken much sooner to protect the victims. But with a lot of things with the state, it’s not surprising.”

Thomas now represents the alleged victims against the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice, or DJJ.

“They are just asleep at the wheel,” Thomas said.

The DJJ has stuck to the date of May 31, 2023, when they were made aware of the allegations against Moorman.

It’s the same date the state’s Internal Investigations Branch, or IIB, told legislators they were made aware during a recent hearing before the Legislative Oversight and Investigations Committee. The IIB is independent of the DJJ, but is under the state’s Justice Cabinet.

“When did you all first get wind of it, or when was the allegations, or when did you all?” Representative Adam Bowling asked.

“Our first hotline call was May the 31st,” Steven Potts, a Special Investigative Agent with the IIB responded.

However, some of the allegations against Moorman had been circulating among the facility’s supervisors for nearly two weeks before.

In an email dated May 17, 2023, one employee wrote, “MULTIPLE notes have been found in the residents’ cells by staff giving social media accounts and some of...romantic nature.”

A total of 19 employees were listed in that email, including supervisors.

Two days later on May 19, one of those employees wrote to the head doctor, James Van Buren and head nurse, Debbie Curry pushing for the issue to be addressed. Her email contained more specific details about the kind of alleged sexual misconduct claims.

“Notes are from staff and romantic in nature,” she writes to Van Buren and Curry.

“She witnessed a staff lean in and heard him making kissing noises to one of resident youth,” she continued.

Dr. Van Buren did forward her concerned emails up the chain to Tim Corder the Ombudsman for the DJJ, the person in charge of investigating complaints for the department that same day. Van Buren was making sure Corder and IIB knew of the claims.

He asks, “Is there a way to check if a report was made or do I need to contact them directly?” speaking of IIB.

We were not given any additional emails answering his question as part of our open records request. However, the Justice Cabinet Spokesperson, Morgan Hall, did respond to our questions about the emails.

“The emails you are referencing do not provide any specific information, such as names, video footage or date/time of events,” Hall wrote.

“Dr. Van Buren forwarded the email to the Ombudsman who forwarded it to IIB on the same day of receipt,” she continued. “However, no one provided IIB with specific information until Terra Beth Sweetland returned from leave.”

Sweetland, a supervisor at the facility at the time, returned from leave on May 31st.

As previously reported in a WAVE Troubleshooter Investigation, Sweetland told investigators she was surprised Moorman was still on the job when she got back.

James Sweat, DJJ’s new Director for the Office of Detention told legislators he was not made aware of the claims.

“It wasn’t being reported by anybody in writing,” he said. “Once we got that information in writing, we took steps to make those changes.”

WAVE News is questioning IIB about why investigators didn’t ask for the accused officer’s name after receiving notice on May 19 and waited until someone else called into their tipline on May 31st.

Despite the emails, Attorney Tad Thomas, now representing some of the alleged victims, added the law doesn’t require the reporting to be done in writing.

“It’s spin,” he said. “As a lawyer, I can say it’s lawyer speak. If I say hey, it wasn’t reported in writing, well it may not have been but that doesn’t mean they didn’t receive the report. So the statement is technically true while leaving out a lot of important information.”

During that same hearing, the Justice Cabinet’s Secretary Kerry Harvey said the state does a good job investigating cases of sexual nature against staff.

“Historical context may be helpful here,” Harvey said.

Since 2015, there have been 55 such accusations of sexual claims against staff. Only six were substantiated Kerry Harvey said.

However, given Campbell County’s failure to immediately report the allegations to law enforcement, some legislators questioned Harvey’s numbers.

“The reports were not getting to me,” Sweat said during the hearing. “Once the reports got to me, I took steps to rectify it.”

“And that was the point of my question, the report were not getting to you,” Representative Bowling replied.

“I can only fix what I know about.”

At the time of the hearing, legislators were not aware that IIB had been contacted by Dr. Van Buren on May 19th.

Meanwhile, the child’s mother will have to pick up the pieces to help her child the best way she knows how. She worries about the impact on her daughter’s life.

“With her being angry all these years and this on top, I can just imagine how it’s going to go.”

The Superintendent at Campbell, Kraig McWhorter was fired for being drunk on the job his paperwork said.

The state has not told us if they’ve reported him for failing to report the sexual abuse allegations against his employee. They stated, “All IIB investigations are sent to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services so they may be investigating any failures to report.”

Moorman was fired but has not been arrested or charged by Kentucky State Police.

“The system’s failed her,” the child’s mother said.

“How much do you love her?” we asked.

“Oh, with all my heart,” she said. “I’m just going to love her through all this, really.”

“I really hope justice is served.”

Moorman’s attorney declined to comment. Kentucky State Police’s case is still open.

A new lawsuit has also been filed by the employee who wrote to Van Buren and Curry with her concerns about the allegations. The lawsuit claims she was fired after speaking up about Moorman.