A special education teacher from Farmingville has been charged with forcible touching in two separate incidents, including one involving an underage girl, officials said Wednesday.
Justin Russo, 24, whose attorney said he is an elementary special education teacher in the Sachem school district, was arrested Saturday and then again on Tuesday and charged each time with forcible touching. Both charges resulted from incidents at two separate fire department events, Suffolk County police said.
Police said a 15-year-old reported that Russo, who attorney George Dazzo said is a volunteer firefighter in the Farmingville Fire Department, forcibly touched her on Saturday while both were volunteering at a haunted mansion fundraiser event at the fire department on Portion Road. Russo was arrested and charged with forcible touching and endangering the welfare of a child, police said.
Police said a further investigation revealed that Russo had inappropriately touched a 28-year-old woman last July at an event at the Selden Fire Department. Russo was arrested in this incident on Tuesday night and again charged with forcible touching, police said.
Dazzo, of Patchogue, said his client is devastated by the charges.
"He's emotionally distraught, he's barely functioning right now because of the allegations," Dazzo said. "He's been in the fire department since he was 7 years old and that and teaching, he's lost both things he loves to do and he's really hanging by a thread, so to speak."
Dazzo said his client has volunteered to take a polygraph test, and surrendered voluntarily to police on Saturday night. Dazzo said the Sachem school district, where he said Russo is a fourth grade special education teacher, placed him on administrative leave with pay after he informed them of the initial arrest. He has also taken a leave of absence from the fire department, Dazzo said.
Court records show Russo was released without bail but that a temporary order of protection was issued at his arraignment on the initial charge on Sunday. Police said Russo posted bail after his subsequent arrest on Tuesday, but the bail amount was not immediately known.