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KSP: Oak Grove officers under probe in human trafficking bust

Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - Updated: 2:05 AM
By Melissa Pettitt Kentucky New Era

More Oak Grove police officers may have been involved in the alleged human trafficking ring that was busted in September at an Oak Grove hotel and resulted in the arrest of another police officer, according to court documents. Kentucky State Police has also confirmed the investigation is ongoing and that not all Oak Grove police officers have been cleared.

A Sept. 30 affidavit for a search warrant on the Quality Inn in Oak Grove, completed by KSP Detective Lloyd Ray and signed off on by Christian District Judge J. Foster Cotthoff, said, "(Victim) informed law enforcement that she had been paid for multiple sexual encounters with officers from the Oak Grove Police Department."

There were no other mentions of the allegations in the court documents and no names listed, aside from specific allegations against former Oak Grove police officer Benjamin R. Walden, who was arrested Sept. 27. Walden reportedly showed up at the scene twice the night of the bust. The ongoing investigation into Oak Grove police officers was news to Police Chief Dennis Cunningham.

Cunningham said, to his knowledge, the allegations against any of the rest of his officers were taken care of during the investigation.

In an initial telephone interview, Cunningham said,"There were no allegations of other officers. It was the possibility; and they have been cleared by the state police."

However, Trooper Sean Wint, a spokesperson for KSP Post 2, said he could not confirm at this time that all officers at the Oak Grove Police Department were cleared of the allegations. "No. I cannot confirm that all officers are cleared," Wint said when asked specifically about the allegations against the officers.

In a follow-up interview, Cunningham said he was told the investigation into any Oak Grove police officers was already complete and he was not aware any were still under investigation.

"If (KSP) has other investigations going on, I haven't been made aware of it," Cunningham said.

Wint said the investigation into the human trafficking case is ongoing and KSP was still interviewing multiple people in connection to the investigation. In addition to the officers, allegations also implicate some hotel staff.

"Right now, it's too early to give any details over who is involved, what is involved and who may or may not be charged," he said.

Commonwealth's Attorney Lynn Pryor said she was aware of the allegations again OGPD officers, but to her knowledge, no one else had been named or identified. Even still, the allegations are concerning to her.

"When things like that are thrown out there, it does cause me concern," Pryor said.

"As you've seen through the years, our office has taken a very strong position on both police officers and attorneys who violate the law, just like with any other citizens. We certainly are not going to treat them any differently than anyone else."

Rogue police officers can give the profession a black eye, even when most them are good, law-abiding officers, Pryor said.

"The sad part is that bad police officers give all the good ones a bad name, just like bad attorneys give good attorneys a bad name," she said. "Every profession has the few rare incidents or individuals that can taint the entire profession."

However, Pryor said if a case is brought to her suggesting wrongdoing on the part of police officers she wouldn't hesitate in pursuing the case.

"I believe the vast majority of our police officers are good police officers that follow the law, uphold the law and do right every day," she said. "But if there is evidence of one or more that isn't, then I believe they should be prosecuted as any other citizen would."

Walden, 44, was an Oak Grove police sergeant at the time of his arrest, but is no longer with the department. He joined the Oak Grove Police Department in June 2012 as a patrolman and was promoted to sergeant in April 2015, according to New Era archives. He also worked for the Hopkinsville Police Department following graduation from the police academy in 1996 until October 2011.

Walden was indicted on charges of first-degree sodomy, first-degree rape, fourth-degree assault, permitting prostitution, first-degree official misconduct, third-degree terroristic threatening, intimidating a participant in a legal process, retaliating against a participant in a legal process and tampering with a witness.

Walden allegedly raped a woman at the Quality Inn in Oak Grove after paying conspirators $200, according to court documents.

The KSP report indicates he identified himself as an officer and placed his gun on the nightstand before he penetrated her orally and vaginally with a beer bottle and pushed his fingers into a previously existing gunshot wound on the woman to cause her pain. Two days after the bust, Walden allegedly made contact with the victim at a safe house, making arrangements to meet up with her. During that meeting, he reportedly pistol-whipped and beat her before saying he would murder her and her family if she spoke to KSP.

Michael S. Helton, 35, and Kiersten R. Napodano, 23, are charged with three counts of human trafficking, three counts of first-degree unlawful imprisonment and promoting prostitution. The married couple was out on bail on charges of sex trafficking of a minor in Tennessee at the time of their arrest. Additionally, Helton is a convicted sex offender.

Walden is scheduled to return to court April 26 and is currently out on bond. Helton and Napodano return to court Aug. 9 for a pretrial conference and are set to begin trial Aug. 14. They are currently in the Christian County Jail and have holds on them in Tennessee for violating bond orders on the previous charges.

Helton's attorney, Jonathan Cochran, indicated during their last court appearance the two sides were nowhere near settling the case before trial.

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