Documents outline newspaper’s slow response to serial sex offender in its ranks

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news and record

Update: New story with additional reporting here.

Kelly Young was a well-liked employee at the News & Record. A digital designer, he proved indispensable for producing ads for some of the newspaper’s most lucrative accounts and played a role in the overhaul of its website. And he quoted scripture at a weekly Bible study attended by other employees and played on the company softball team.

But the 33-year-old designer was also a serial sex offender. At least two women have accused Young of repeatedly exposing his genitals to them at the newspaper during work hours. Court records and interviews indicate that management received multiple complaints about Young, and a police investigation revealed that the human resources department was aware of complaints about Young’s behavior at least 10 months before a reporter brought a new complaint against him in late 2016.

Still, Young kept his job, until March 2017, when a second victim came forward and he was terminated. Soon, a criminal investigation was underway. On Dec. 13, with two victims confronting him in Guilford County court, Young pleaded no contest to misdemeanor indecent exposure, and Judge Mark Cummings ordered him to “complete counseling that involves treatment for sexual deviant behavior.”

It was a reporter, fittingly enough, who brought Young’s crimes to light, although not through the conventional means of front-page stories and bylines. After another victim took out charges against Young, the reporter voluntarily gave an account to the police, and appeared in court to give a victim impact statement last week. But she has not sought to publicize her experience, and Triad City Beat is honoring her request for anonymity.

A case supplemental report completed by Greensboro police Detective EP Ellsworth that was reviewed by TCB indicates the reporter told Ellsworth she was subjected to four incidents of indecent exposure by Young over the course of 2016. In one episode in early 2016, which appears to capture two of the incidents, Young reportedly appeared at the reporter’s desk with an erect penis protruding through his open pants, and then pursued her as she attempted to get away from him. Consistent with another victim’s account, the reporter said Young initiated the encounter by talking about work matters. The police report states that the reporter initially thought she saw Young’s belt protruding from his pants and then realized it was his penis. “She stated she got up and exited her desk area going to a coffee station where she could get a drink,” Ellsworth wrote. “She stated Kelly Young followed her and as she stood at the coffee station he stood at the top of the stairs exposing his erect penis through his opened pants.”

In a subsequent incident, around Halloween 2016, the reporter said she found herself alone with Young on a Sunday after her supervisor had gone home. Again, she said Young appeared at her cubicle and stood in front of her with his erect penis showing through his pants. Asked by Ellsworth why she didn’t report the incidents, the report said, “She stated at that moment she and Mr. Young were the only ones in the building and she was afraid for her safety.”

In a final incident in mid-November 2016, the reporter said she saw Young approach her in the office, but as he did another co-worker suddenly appeared, causing him to turn and run away, and she caught a glimpse of his exposed penis. That was when she decided to report the behavior to human resources.

The same month that Young’s conduct was reported to HR, court records indicated he settled on a new victim. Gayla Price, a 51-year-old account executive in the advertising department, said Young would typically approach her desk talking about work. She said he would hold a folder in front of his crotch, and then when she turned towards him he would pull the folder away to reveal his exposed penis through his open pants. At times, she said, his genitals were only a foot away from her face.

At the time, Price had initiated a discrimination complaint against the company over an unrelated matter, and she felt isolated and vulnerable. Two weeks before the first incident, Price said Young noticed that she was upset after she had met with management to discuss her discrimination complaint, and he invited her to come by his office.

“He was very supportive,” Price recalled. “He said, ‘Hang in there.’ It was a very positive exchange. It wasn’t two weeks later; that’s when the first assault happened. That told me — after the initial shock — I would come home and it consumed me. Now, I’m thinking: What did I do? Why did he do that?… I felt like it was the most disrespectful thing I had experienced, like someone says, ‘Shut up!’ This is what’s going through my mind: I don’t have no recourse. I was mad at myself because I gave him that power. He befriended me. I told Judge Cummings that beyond a shadow of a doubt I couldn’t speak up. He knew I couldn’t go to them. He was right.”

Price said Young exposed himself on three different occasions in November and December 2016.

Like the reporter, Price told the detective that she would often see Young “roam around the office watching the other female employees.”

Young could not be reached for this story.

Detective Ellsworth later learned from Sharmin Arrington, the regional human resources manager for BH Media Group — the company that owns the News & Record — that Young exposed himself to at least three different women from November 2016 to March 2017, and Arrington wasn’t even aware of Price’s experience. Arrington told Ellsworth that it wasn’t until January that she met with Young to discuss the complaint. Arrington’s account of the timing of the first complaint against Young is at odds with the statement by the reporter who made the complaint. Arrington said she received the complaint in December 2016, but the reporter told the detective the final incident took place “a couple weeks” after Halloween, and that she reported it “24-48 hours” later. In any case, the company took no action against Young after the first report. Arrington said Young told the incident had been an “accident,” and that he hadn’t realized his zipper was down and his genitals were exposed. But after the second complaint from an unidentified employee in March, Young did not deny the allegations and he was fired.

When human resources looked further into Young’s employment file, they discovered his record of workplace misconduct went back more than a year.

“Ms. Arrington stated she was not aware of the extent of Mr. Young’s behavior until he was terminated,” the case supplemental report states. “Ms. Arrington went on to state that the Greensboro News & Record had recently changed their HR staff and later learned there were previous reports dating back to December […] and January 2016 of Kelly Young’s indecent exposure.”

Reached by phone on Tuesday, Arrington declined to comment.

Daniel Finnegan, the publisher and editor at the News & Record, indicated he would respond by email to questions from TCB after consulting with his corporate legal team in Omaha, Neb.

Left unanswered are questions about why the organization didn’t act on the previous report discovered by Arrington from January 2016, or why there was a delay from November or December to January before Arrington confronted Young with the complaint. And the newspaper hasn’t explained why Arrington accepted Young’s explanation that it was an “accident” when the reporter has indicated that she was subjected to indecent exposure on at least three different occasions.

Price, who resigned from her position at the News & Record in May, expressed dismay at the newspaper’s response to the revelations about Young’s misconduct. She charges that the organization tried to protect itself while jeopardizing its employees’ safety. Human resources staff should have acknowledged that exposing genitals to coworkers is a criminal offense, and should have contacted the police as soon as they received the initial complaint from the reporter in November or December 2016, Price said. The news organization also should have circulated a memo warning employees to be on guard against sexual harassment, she said. Then, perhaps more victims would have felt emboldened to come forward and Young would have been put on notice.

“As far as credibility, they have none,” Price said. “Not that their reporters don’t have credibility. She reported a crime, and they did nothing about it, but they treated it as a ‘he said she said.’”

If not Price’s action, Young would have likely avoided prosecution. Price said because of her pre-existing dispute with management she wanted to wait for Young to do something that could be corroborated by another employee before she reported him. She hadn’t even heard about the reporter’s victimization. But once she learned he had been fired, she finally felt safe and she wanted to make sure he was brought to justice.

The experience took a significant toll on Price. She believes Young intentionally took advantage of her vulnerability, and then the experience of workplace sexual harassment ratcheted up the pressure she was already enduring.

“By the time I went to the doctor my blood pressure was so high, the stress level was so high,” Price recounted. “He ended up referring me to a mental health facility here in Greensboro…. I became so angry that I could no longer represent this company in a positive light. I lost employment. My blood pressure, that was out of the roof; my stress level, that was out of the roof.

“The sexual harassment on top of everything else just rendered me useless when it came to me doing my job,” Price added. “When things are piling up one person can only take so much.”

Although Young was not a senior employee in a technical sense, Price said his status as the only digital designer made him indispensable and allowed him to wield power over others. Young’s skills were crucial to the success of some of Price’s most lucrative accounts like the Greensboro Swarm.

“The power’s not always with a manager,” Price said. “Sometimes the power is a person you rely on to carry out and execute campaigns, and I couldn’t afford to sabotage that.”

When Young appeared in court on Dec. 13, three of his victims were present, including Price. The reporter who made the initial complaint in November or December 2016 told the court she wanted Young to get help and wanted to make sure the staff at the News & Record remained safe. Price said the prosecutor indicated that there were five victims, although she only knows two others. A second News & Record reporter, whom TCB is not identifying, also attended the hearing.

“I’m happy we got a conviction,” Price said. “It vindicates all five women. We stopped a potential serial sex offender.”

Daniel Finnegan, publisher and editor of the News & Record, released the following statement at 6:38 p.m. on Tuesday:

The News & Record has taken appropriate actions since an allegation was brought to our attention in November of 2016. We fired Mr. Young the day after a second complaint was made to Human Resources.

After Mr. Young was fired, several other employees came forward to say they had experienced similar incidents. One of them dated to 2014 and was not properly documented by an HR representative, who left our company in 2015. This lack of documentation left management unaware of the 2014 incident until after Mr. Young was terminated.

We have cooperated with police and the district attorney’s office throughout this case. In addition, we have strived to protect the privacy of our employees who were victims. We also took several steps to try to provide assistance to our employees – we offered counseling to those we know were affected, we sent a broader communication to the entire staff to remind them of counseling services available to them through our Employee Assistance Program EAP, and we required all employees to take anti-harassment training this spring, as we do periodically.

After a complaint was made in November 2016 that Mr. Young’s pants were unzipped and his penis was exposed while talking to a female employee, we conducted an investigation but could not determine whether the incident was intentional.

We met with Mr. Young on Jan. 3 to warn him that he would be fired if we received any other complaints. 

When another complaint was made in late March, we tried to contact Mr. Young immediately. He was out of the office but agreed to come in and meet with us the next day. We immediately terminated his employment at that meeting.

This has been a painful incident for the victims in this case, and shocking for all of our employees. We regret that any of them had to go through this experience. We are committed to making sure our workplace is a safe and supportive environment for all of our employees.

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