A Westhampton Beach Middle School gym teacher used a cellphone to record video of girls in a locker room at the school, State Police said after arresting him Wednesday on a felony charge of second-degree unlawful surveillance.
Thomas Sheppard, 27, of Speonk, was released on $25,000 bail Wednesday after his arraignment at Westhampton Beach Justice Court before Justice Robert A. Kelly. Sheppard, who did not enter a plea, is scheduled to be back in court April 10.
Maj. Patrick Regan of the State Police said Sheppard, who has worked for the school district for four years, was arrested at the district's administrative office after an investigation that began Feb. 26.
A person at the school reported to Westhampton Beach police that a cellphone with video was discovered, and village police, citing manpower issues, asked State Police for assistance in the case, Regan said.
The State Police investigation began March 7, the day they were contacted, with help from the Suffolk County district attorney's office and village police.
Authorities did not say if the person who found the cellphone was an employee, teacher or student or if it was Sheppard's phone. They gave no details of the recording found on the phone.
At the arraignment, Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Sheetal Shetty told Kelly that Sheppard "did record juvenile girls in the locker room of the middle school."
Kelly cited Sheppard as a possible flight risk in setting the bail, cash or bond.
Sheppard's attorney, Rita Bonicelli, called her client "a beloved teacher and coach" and requested a smaller bail. She told the court that Sheppard makes $80,000 as a teacher and lives in Speonk with his fiancee, who attended the proceeding, as did his parents.
Michael R. Radday, superintendent of the Westhampton Beach School District, said in a statement that Sheppard has been suspended until further notice, pending the outcome of the legal process. A district spokeswoman said in an email the suspension was with pay."Since this is a personnel matter and an active investigation, the district is legally constrained from sharing any additional details at this time," the statement said.
Regan said at a news conference Wednesday that police believe cyberbullying has been a residual part of the case. Supporters of Sheppard have gone online to intimidate alleged victims in the case, Regan said.
He said anyone found to be involved in cyberbullying would be arrested and charged.
Regan also said he did not know whether any part of the video from the cellphone had been posted online.
State Police ask anyone with information on the case to call 631-208-9002.With Gary Dymski