A Long Island middle school gym teacher has been accused of using a cell phone in the girls locker room to illegally record students, police said.
Thomas Sheppard, 27, of Speonk was arrested on charges of second-degree unlawful surveillance, a felony offense. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Wednesday and was freed on $25,000 bail.
He was ordered to stay away from his alleged victims and from witnesses, according to state police. Police have also warned against social-media bullying of the alleged victims and witnesses, noting that they have been targeted by supporters of Sheppard since his arrest.
The charges stem from an investigation that began in late February, when someone in the school noticed Sheppard allegedly using a cell phone to record in the locker room. School administrators reported the suspicious activity to local police, who then brought in state police to assist with their investigation.
Police would not disclose how many victims there were, or what their ages were. The investigation is ongoing.
Sheppard has been employed by the Westhampton Beach school district for four years.
Westhampton Beach Schools Superintendent Michael R. Radday said Sheppard has been suspended pending the outcome of the legal process and said that the district is cooperating with the police investigation.
Parents at the school were surprised to learn of Sheppard's arrest. Lissa Terry, a mother of three students in the district, said Sheppard supported her daughter when she was having a difficult time in school.
"I find this so hard to believe," said Terry. "He was such a great teacher. When my daughter was having trouble with bullying, he was the one to step in. My experience with this teacher has been so good. I am devastated by this."
Information on an attorney for Sheppard wasn't immediately available.