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Teacher Thomas Sheppard pleads not guilty in locker room video recording case

Thomas Sheppard, 27, of Speonk, is led out

Thomas Sheppard, 27, of Speonk, is led out of the New York State Troop L headquarters in Riverside for arraignment on charges of unlawful surveillance in the second degree -- a felony -- police said. (March 20, 2013) Credit: James Carbone

A Westhampton Beach Middle School gym teacher pleaded not guilty Monday to an indictment that accuses him of making a cellphone video recording of his female eighth-grade students undressing in the locker room after class.

Thomas Sheppard, 27, of Speonk, is charged with second-degree unlawful surveillance, a felony, and seven counts of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor. Suffolk County Court Judge Barbara Kahn kept bail at $25,000 bond, which Sheppard has posted.

James Chalifoux, deputy chief of the Suffolk district attorney's office's Major Crime bureau, said Sheppard's initial explanations that he lost the phone in the locker room and it recorded by accident cannot be true. "The evidence we have makes it clear it was not a mistake," Chalifoux said. "It was not an accident."

The girls in the locker room found the phone recording them and "freaked out, as they should," Chalifoux said.

Although Sheppard, who was arrested on March 20, tried to delete everything on the phone, Chalifoux said, investigators recovered the recording.

"You can see his face" in the video, Chalifoux said. "He stands in front of it, to check the [recording] angle."

Chalifoux said that also undermines Sheppard's earlier suggestion that he may have been set up by girls who found the phone in the locker room.

Sheppard's attorney, Peter Brill of Manhattan, said he has not yet seen the video and can't comment on his client's intent until he does.

"There are many, many people in the community supporting him," Brill said. "There are a lot of people whose lives he's touched in a positive way."

Chalifoux expressed some misgiving about that support, noting victims' parents have been upset by businesses with signs supporting Sheppard and student athletes wearing green bracelets that read "Free Shep."

Deirdre Gilligan, a spokeswoman for the Westhampton Beach school district, said Superintendent Michael Radday has reported seeing only one student wearing a bracelet, and that the district's athletic director has said no athletes are wearing them at games.

Radday said in a statement after the arrest that Sheppard was suspended with pay until the case is resolved.

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