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Gym teacher Thomas Sheppard gets probation for recording girls in locker room

Thomas Sheppard, a former Westhampton Beach Middle School

Thomas Sheppard, a former Westhampton Beach Middle School gym teacher, leaves Riverhead Criminal Court after a court appearance. (Sept. 19, 2013) Credit: James Carbone

A former Westhampton Beach middle school gym teacher was sentenced Wednesday to 5 years on probation for secretly video recording girls getting undressed in the school locker room.

Victims, their parents and the Suffolk district attorney's office were opposed to the non-jail sentence for Thomas Sheppard, 28, of Speonk, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to second-degree unlawful surveillance. He initially said the recording happened by accident when he dropped his phone in the locker room.

"I fully understand the enormous sense of betrayal that's been expressed here in this courtroom," Suffolk County Court Judge Barbara Kahn said, but she added that a jail sentence would not increase public safety because even the maximum of 11/3 to 4 years is so short, and retribution alone wasn't enough to justify jail for a first-time offender.

Sheppard was required to register as a low-level sex offender. He is no longer a teacher in New York State.

Parents and one victim spoke in court, identifying themselves only by their initials. Sheppard listened impassively as they spoke.

One mother said her daughter vomited every night for a month after the recording came to light in February and had to be home-schooled for the rest of the school year.

"You have hurt us all so much," said one girl, 13. "You should be beyond ashamed."

Her mother told Kahn she was proud of her daughter and the other victims, some of whom were further upset by support for Sheppard in the community and abuse on social media.

"They have had to be less young," the mother said.

Sheppard read a statement to the victims in court, apologizing and repeatedly urging them to move on with their lives.

"There is no doubt in my mind you all can move on and lead happy and successful lives," he said, as some victims reacted in disgust. "You were all good students."

Assistant District Attorney James Chalifoux said Sheppard for a time suggested through his attorney, Peter Brill of Hauppauge, that he did this because he was disappointed he had been unable to join the military or a local police department. But in the end, he admitted he did it for a sexual thrill, Chalifoux said.

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