LEXINGTON — A Mercer County woman who had an ongoing sexual relationship with a Harrodsburg police officer as a juvenile has filed a federal lawsuit against the former officer, his chief, the police department and the city.
The plaintiff, now almost 19, filed the complaint Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Lexington, alleging her civil and constitutional rights were violated by former officer Jason Elder and former chief Ernie Kelty in their official and individual capacities, along with the department and the city, during a three-year relationship with Elder that began when she was 14.
Elder, 31, is currently serving a three-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in January to two counts of third-degree rape, 49 counts of third-degree sodomy and 90 counts of third-degree sexual abuse involving the woman.
The Advocate-Messenger does not identify victims of sex crimes except in rare circumstances.
Perhaps the most startling allegation in the lawsuit is that Kelty, who is now Mercer County sheriff, was aware of Elder’s involvement with the girl and did nothing to put a stop to it. Kelty retired as Harrodsburg chief in 2008. The relationship between Elder, a former DARE officer, and the teenager began in November 2007 and continued until November 2009.
“During this time, and/or previously, Kelty was informed by (the girl’s father) and others of the inappropriate and illegal conduct being perpetrated by Elder” and “failed or refused to take any action to discipline Elder, alert appropriate authorities or take any other corrective which might have stopped or further prevented the abuse ...” the complaint alleges.
Reached Tuesday afternoon, Kelty said he was not aware the lawsuit had been filed. When informed of its allegations, Kelty quickly denied them.
“That’s not true. No way did I know that was going on,” he said. “I was unaware of the situation until her father called me in the middle of the night, after I had retired, and told me about it. The second he told me about it, I did everything I could. I sat him down with the chief of police (then Rodney Harlow) the very next morning.”
Kelty declined to comment further until he had a chance to review the lawsuit and seek advice from an attorney.
Though the third-degree sex charges Elder pleaded guilty to indicate a consensual relationship, the complaint suggests that Elder used his position as a police officer to force himself upon the girl. It describes the encounters between the two as “sexual assault and battery,” adding that the girl was unable to provide consent because of her status as a minor.
“At all times during the period, Elder, on numerous occasions repeatedly subjected (the girl) to this unwanted sexual contact, and was able to do so on the basis of his position of authority and special trust ...” the complaint maintains.
“Elder intentionally and maliciously used force unlawfully directed at (the girl) ... to create in (her) mind a well-founded fear of immediate peril, harm or death,” the lawsuit also states.
The actions of Elder and Kelty, and by extension the city and police department, violated the girl’s constitutional rights to privacy, to be free from unwanted physical and sexual contact, to be free from unwanted intrusion and her rights to due process under the law, the complaint states.
The city and Kelty were negligent in failing to protect the girl as a citizen and failing to report child abuse, and intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon her, the lawsuit maintains.
It seeks an unstated amount of compensatory and punitive damages for physical and emotional pain and injuries, medical expenses, lost wages and impairment of the girl’s ability to earn money in the future.
The lawsuit was filed by attorneys Hal Friedman and Michael Cooper of Louisville and S. Marie Hellard of Lawrenceburg.
Elder and the city have not yet responded to the allegations contained in the complaint.