UPDATE: Wednesday, 3:30 p.m.
Thomas Sheppard, who was arrested Wednesday morning at the Westhampton Beach School District administration office, was released from custody on Monday afternoon after posting $25,000 cash bail, according to Major Patrick Regan of the New York State Police.
At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Major Regan said police believe that Mr. Sheppard used a cellphone to make a recording in the girls locker room at the middle school, but would not confirm how many girls were on the recording or how the video was discovered. He also confirmed that the current charge is based off of one incident and that at this time, there was only one known recording incident in the locker room.
“Evidence obtained revealed that Sheppard placed a video recording device in a female gym locker room in an apparent effort to record students in that environment,” Major Regan said. “These charges are based on one incident that we are aware of, but there may be further charges forthcoming as the investigation continues.”
During the press conference, which lasted approximately five minutes, he also said that orders of protection have been issued for an unspecified number of people, which bars Mr. Sheppard from contacting individuals associated with the investigation.
At the same time, Major Regan said that during the course of the investigation, supporters of Mr. Sheppard have been bullying young girls they perceive to be the victims in the case on multiple social media websites. If that continues, Major Regan said, those individuals are subject to arrest.
A Westhampton Beach Middle School gym teacher pleaded not guilty on Wednesday afternoon to charges that he placed a video recording device in the girls’ locker room late last month.
Thomas Sheppard, 27, who lives in Speonk, was arrested by State Police on Wednesday morning and charged with second-degree unlawful surveillance, a felony, following a nearly two-week-long investigation. He was arraigned that afternoon in Westhampton Beach Justice Court.
If convicted, Mr. Sheppard faces up to 4 years in prison, according to the state’s penal code.
After Mr. Sheppard entered his not guilty plea, Westhampton Beach Village Justice Robert A. Kelly Jr. set bail at $25,000 cash or bond, and Mr. Sheppard was remanded to the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside. It was not immediately clear if and when he would post bail.
Mr. Sheppard, who did not speak during his arraignment, will return to Village Justice Court at 10 a.m. on Monday, March 25.
His attorney, Rita Bonecelli of the Brill Legal Group in Hauppauge, declined to comment on the charges that her client is facing after the court proceedings. Mr. Sheppard’s parents, his fiancée and her mother were in the courtroom Wednesday for the arraignment and all declined to speak with a reporter.
During the proceedings, Assistant District Attorney Sheetal Shetty said Mr. Sheppard recorded young women in the girls’ locker room, but did not specify what type of device was used by him or when the incident allegedly took place. The number of potential victims is also unclear.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Sheppard has been suspended indefinitely with pay from his tenured teaching position with the Westhampton Beach School District, according to a statement issued earlier that day by Schools Superintendent Michael Radday. When asked by the judge, Ms. Bonecelli stated that Mr. Sheppard makes about $80,000 per year.
“The district has been informed by the New York State Police of the arrest of a Middle School Teacher,” Mr. Radday wrote. “The individual has been suspended until further notice pending the outcome of the legal process.
“Since this is a personnel matter and an active investigation, the district is legally constrained from sharing any additional details at this time,” he continued. “Please be assured that the safety and well-being of students is our top priority, and the district will continue to cooperate with law enforcement officials during their investigation.”
State Police have said that their investigation, which began on March 6, revealed that Mr. Sheppard, a four-year employee of the school district, placed a video recording device in the girls’ locker room at the middle school. It was not immediately clear when the incident took place, though school district officials asked the Westhampton Beach Village Police to investigate the incident on February 26. The investigation, however, was turned over to State Police after the village’s lead investigator, Detective Ed Hamor, was involved in a car accident.
Prior to his arrest on Wednesday, Mr. Sheppard had been reassigned to the district’s administration office, according to school officials.
State Police are still investigating and ask those with information to contact them at (631) 208-9002.