The attorney representing the Westhampton Beach Middle School gym teacher accused of surreptitiously recording videos of girls in the school locker room this past winter said he is negotiating a possible plea deal with prosecutors.
In April, Thomas Sheppard, 27, of Speonk pleaded not guilty to one felony count of second-degree unlawful surveillance and seven misdemeanor counts of endangering the welfare of a child, after investigators said he purposely left his cellphone in the girls locker room so he could film girls changing clothes. The incident allegedly occurred in late February, and New York State Police arrested him in March.
After a court conference in Riverside last Friday, Mr. Sheppard’s attorney, Peter Brill of the Brill Legal Group in Hauppauge, said he is continuing negotiations with Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office, suggesting that a plea deal could be in the making.
“There’s a certain point past which we’re not willing to go, and I think there’s a certain point past which the district attorney’s office is not willing to go, and if we have to go to trial, we will,” Mr. Brill said. “There is nothing else going on right now until we get to the point where we know we can’t negotiate any further.”
Mr. Sheppard, who attended the court appearance dressed in a suit and joined by his family members, declined to comment on his case. He is facing up to four years in prison if convicted.
“He was dedicated to his students, and what happened here was completely not the Tom Sheppard that everyone in Westhampton knew and loved,” Mr. Brill said. “He doesn’t want to be remembered this way.”
He added that his client, who also coached the wrestling team at Westhampton Beach and is a graduate of the district, was “devastated for himself, devastated for his family, devastated for his students.”
James Chalifoux, the deputy bureau chief of the Major Crime Bureau at the district attorney’s office, said he and Mr. Brill were discussing the possibility of a plea deal, though he said no decisions have been made.
“I’m confident that at the end of the case the defendant will ultimately be found guilty of what he is charged with,” Mr. Chalifoux said, adding that he did not anticipate the case being disposed of for another couple of months.
The case was adjourned last week and another conference was scheduled for Monday, August 26, again before Suffolk County Judge Barbara Kahn.
Mr. Sheppard, a tenured four-year employee of the Westhampton Beach School District, has been suspended with pay since his arrest and he is free on $25,000 cash bail. He was making about $80,000 a year at the time of his arrest.
Investigators have not provided more information about the allegations, such as when the incident took place or how many girls were in the locker room at the time of the filming. But at Mr. Sheppard’s arraignment in April, Mr. Chalifoux stated that the gym teacher intentionally filmed 13- and 14-year-old girls by placing his cellphone in the girls’ locker room when they were scheduled to change clothes. Mr. Chalifoux added that Mr. Sheppard had attempted to erase the video, but it was recovered by authorities.
At the arraignment, the judge issued seven orders of protection, prohibiting Mr. Sheppard from contacting his alleged victims and witnesses.
Westhampton Beach Superintendent of Schools Michael Radday did not return calls and emails this week seeking comment.
In late February, school district officials contacted the Westhampton Beach Police Department to investigate the complaint, and the case was later handed over to the State Police.