Former Trigg Sheriff and Officers Named in Federal Sex Discrimination Lawsuit

A lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court by a Trigg County teenager who claims former Trigg County Sheriff Jason Barnes, three members of his department, and a former Cadiz police officer, groomed her for sex while she was interning through a high school program.

Layla Kunkle, who is listed as a 2020 graduate of Trigg County High School, filed the lawsuit through her attorney D. Wes Sullenger in U.S. District Court in Paducah on Dec. 17.

In addition to Barnes, the lawsuit names former deputies Jimmy Godair, Michael Parker, and Jeff Arena, and former Cadiz Police Officer Doug Latham as defendants.  Trigg County Fiscal Court, the Trigg County Board of Education, and James Mangels, the director of personnel and student services with the school system, are also listed as defendants.

According to the lawsuit, which represents just one side of the issue, Kunkle was a 17-year-old high school senior when she was accepted into the “Senior Directed Experience” internship program through the high school.  Because Kunkle had an interest in a law enforcement career, she began her internship at the sheriff’s department where she worked full-time under the supervision of Barnes and other staff members.

The suit said Kunkle initially worked in the office assisting with tax payments and later rode along with Trigg County Animal Control Officer Tori Davis, who the suit claimed warned Kunkle she would be treated differently and subjected to sexual advances when she turned 18.

Once Kunkle did turn 18, the lawsuit went on to say that she did become the target of sexual advances as Davis had predicted.  The suit alleges the sexual advances began with flirtatious comments in the office and on ride-alongs she was encouraged to take with the male officers.

Shortly after her 18th birthday, the complaint accuses Barnes of making a “sexual come-on” toward Kunkle, who relayed this to Davis.  Davis, in turn, told Barnes who went to Kunkle and told her she could not tell anyone what happened during her internship.  That alleged incident occurred in February of this year.

The lawsuit said Deputies Godair and Arena, along with Parker, who was a special deputy, and Latham, a Cadiz Police officer, began a period of grooming Kunkle through social app messages that mixed work messages with flirtatious comments made after hours.

The lawsuit alleges that Barnes invited Kunkle to his home where he provided her with an alcoholic drink that caused her to become intoxicated. The complaint said Barnes had sex with Kunkle in the living room of his home and later in his bedroom.

While Barnes later denied to her that they had sex, the suit said he continued to make advances toward her and told other officers she could be persuaded into having sex.

The lawsuit also said Latham and Parker sent continuous messages to Kunkle until she agreed to have sex with them.

Arena and Godair both took Kunkle to secluded areas and had sex with her twice, the suit alleges.  Kunkle said she felt groomed and pressured to have sex with the male officers.

Barnes was indicted by a Trigg County Grand Jury in August on charges of Tampering with a Witness and Third-Degree Unlawful Transaction with a Minor.  His charges are still pending in Trigg Circuit Court although attorneys in the case were confident a plea agreement could be reached early next year.

Godair’s resignation from the sheriff’s department was announced in July.  It’s unclear when Arena’s employment ended with the department.  Parker was not retained as a special deputy when Aaron Acree was named to replace Barnes, who resigned effective Aug. 31.

Latham was a trainee officer with the Cadiz Police Department who was waiting to begin training at the state’s police academy.  He resigned from the department in May.  Neither the City of Cadiz nor the police department was named as defendants in the suit.  Only Barnes has been criminally charged in the case.

Davis resigned as the county’s animal control officer in June.

Trigg Fiscal Court was named in the lawsuit because they were “responsible for providing for the safety of its citizens by, in part, maintaining a sheriff’s department.”

The board of education was named in the suit for not communicating with the sheriff’s department acceptable conduct or providing them with any training or procedures regarding permissible interactions with Kunkle.  The suit said the school board, Mangels, and Barnes were aware the educational program was being used for the sexual exploitation of Kunkle and failed to take action which qualifies as a Title IX violation under educational law.

The lawsuit does not say whether Kunkle informed Mangels or the school that she was being subjected to sexual advances by the officers but does say they knew the sheriff department’s supervision of her was inadequate.

Kunkle alleges significant emotional pain and trauma and other non-pecuniary losses.  She is seeking judgement for the cost of medical and mental health treatment as well as compensatory and punitive damages.