Fayette County

Councilman Russ Hensley resigns after closed police investigation released

Urban County Councilman Russ Hensley abruptly resigned his seat on the council Thursday and withdrew his name from the Nov. 8 election.

In a letter to Mayor Jim Gray, Hensley said he was resigning for business and personal reasons. He said stepping down now will allow the new council member a “head start in getting down to the important work at hand.” Hensley represents the 12th Council District, which includes most of the area outside of the urban service boundary.

Hensley, who owns an information technology business, said the death of a business partner has meant he needs to devote more time to work. “Now that I own and am responsible for a successful sole proprietorship business, it is abundantly clear that I must refocus on my business interests,” Hensley wrote.

The resignation came after the Herald-Leader e-mailed Hensley questions regarding a closed Lexington police investigation involving Hensley. The investigative file, which runs more than 200 pages, was released by police to the newspaper through an Open Records Act request. Police “believed that there was sufficient probable cause” to charge Hensley with sexual abuse first, a felony, but ultimately the case was closed because the alleged victim decided not to pursue prosecution, according to the records released by police.

Hensley, in statements to the police, said he did not do anything wrong.

In a written statement Thursday night, Hensley noted that the case is closed and criticized the Herald-Leader for engaging in “tabloid journalism.”

“It was not until six weeks after this event (10 months ago) that I was first contacted by our police,” he said in the statement. “This was during a time that my wife and I were separated. I was shocked to learn that a private misunderstanding at my home had escalated into something the police would review. I fully cooperated.

“I want my friends and the community to know that as a result of this mis-understanding, my gentlemanly apology was promptly offered to and was accepted by the woman involved,” Hensley added. “I was assured by her that in retrospect, that no one was hurt and that the matter was finished. My wife is by my side 1,000 percent.”

In response, Lexington police spokeswoman Brenna Angel said in a statement Thursday night that “This investigation was thorough and the record speaks for itself. It is public and anyone can file an Open Records Request to get a copy.”

According to witness and victim statements in the police file, police were called to the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital in the early morning hours of Dec. 23. The alleged victim, a woman in her 20s, told police that she and her two friends were at Hensley’s home on the evening of Dec. 22. The woman told police she had been drinking and fell asleep on the couch. She woke up to find Hensley on top of her, and that he “attempted to pull down her shorts along with her underwear and penetrated her with his two fingers,” according to police records.

The woman’s two friends were also interviewed by police. They said they woke up to the woman yelling their names and screaming. The two friends were asleep in an adjoining room. The three women left immediately, according to victim and witness statements.

At the hospital, the woman told police she wanted to talk to a family member before deciding whether to file charges. She returned to the police on Jan. 6 and said she wanted to move forward with the investigation.

Hensley, who was on council at the time, was interviewed by police in February. According to the police file and a transcript of Hensley’s police interview, Hensley at first denied any sexual contact occurred. But he later said that he had made out with the victim, but said he felt that he did nothing wrong.

“I did not attack her,” Hensley said in the interview with police. “And when she said stop, I left. I left.”

Lt. Matt Brotherton, an 18-year police veteran and the detective who investigated the complaint, wrote in the case report in February that “I met with the victim and informed her that I believed there was sufficient probable cause to charge the suspect with sexual abuse first. The victim was unsure whether she wanted to pursue prosecution or a criminal proceeding. She decided that she wanted to think it over and contact me later,” Brotherton wrote on Feb. 10.

In the police documents, Brotherton said Hensley changed his version of events during the interview: “The suspect initially denied having any physical contact with the victim. As the conversation continued, he changed his detailing of his actions. He ultimately acknowledged having sexual contact with the victim. His description of the contact was consistent with the victim’s account of the evening.”

The woman later decided not to pursue the case, according to records in the case file. The case was officially cleared “by exception” in late July.

Angel, the spokeswoman for Lexington Police, said cleared “by exception” means “there is sufficient evidence to establish probable cause that a crime was committed by the identified suspect. However, due to circumstances outside of our control, a prosecution will not occur. These can include: the death of a suspect, a suspect being incarcerated in another jurisdiction on a more serious charge, the victim choosing not to pursue prosecution. This can be for a variety of reasons: the victim is no longer interested in the case or the victim has received a satisfactory outcome in some sort of civil mediation.”

“In this case, there was a determination not to prosecute made by the commonwealth’s attorney,” Angel said.

Commonwealth Attorney Ray Larson declined to comment on the decision not to pursue charges.

“We typically don’t comment on cases. I will let the record speak for itself,” Larson said.

The names of the woman and the witnesses have been redacted from the police file. The Herald-Leader generally does not identify victims in cases of alleged sexual abuse.

Hensley, 41, was appointed by Gray in 2015 to fill the unexpired term of former Councilman Ed Lane, who died in August 2015. Hensley would have faced Kathy Plomin, a former nonprofit and WKYT-TV executive, on Nov. 8. Hensley had never held public office prior to his appointment. Urban County Council races are non-partisan.

Plomin ran unsuccessfully for an at-large council seat in 2010.

In a statement, Gray spokeswoman Susan Straub said: “Councilmember Hensley provided us with a letter of resignation this morning. We have 30 days to appoint a new council member, and we will do so.”

It’s not clear if Gray will appoint Plomin. Whoever is appointed will only serve about 10 days before the Nov. 8 election.

Plomin said Thursday she has put in a call to Gray’s office but has not yet heard back.

“I have been attending a lot of council and committee meetings so I feel like I will be able to hit the ground running,” Plomin said.

Election officials with the Fayette County clerk’s office said Hensley’s name will still appear on the ballot because it has already been certified. Votes cast for Hensley will not be counted. That means Plomin will become the new council member for the 12th Council District.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall