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Jul 30, 2013 10:05 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Plea Deal Could Be In Works For Westhampton Beach Middle School Teacher Accused Of Filming Girls In Locker Room

Jul 30, 2013 2:38 PM

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.

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So much for all of those crying that this was a setup from the beggining. I'm going to go with what Mr. Chalifoux is saying...
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 30, 13 12:04 PM
The words of defense counsel seem telling IMO.

“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.”

Absent is the word "allegedly."
By PBR (4951), Southampton on Jul 30, 13 2:51 PM
2 members liked this comment
Or "what happened here" is that he was arrested and charged with an egregious crime. That statement wouldn't warrant or require an "allegedly," as that is a fact.

You are reading your own conclusions into the defense attorney's statements.
By ex-pat (49), East Quogue on Jul 31, 13 11:33 AM
Yes, the attorney's statement could be read the way you suggest, but the more reasonable reading is as stated above IMO. At a minimum, defense counsel should not be creating ambiguities. Ditto to Publius below that the statement weakens the defense's bargaining position in plea negotiations.

By PBR (4951), Southampton on Jul 31, 13 12:38 PM
I don't think your reading is the more reasonable one. However, I agree with you. Even though anybody knowledgeable about the system would assume that these discussions are taking place, Mr. Brill should not be admitting to the fact that they have engaged in plea negotiations. I don't see how that can possibly help his client.
By ex-pat (49), East Quogue on Jul 31, 13 1:47 PM
Unless maybe his statement is an act of "contrition," by admitting that certain factual elements of the People's case are uncontested? In narrow circumstances, this could play to the defendant's advantage and credibility, and result in a lower sentence down the road. A long shot, but there could be strategic reasons for going down this path.

If the evidence against a defendant (in general) is clear cut and indisputable, for the defense to posture with an initial parry of "he didn't do it" ...more
By PBR (4951), Southampton on Jul 31, 13 1:55 PM
Yes, I would agree with you that it would be foolish to dispute clear and indisputable evidence. For instance, if George Zimmerman took the position that he didn't even shoot Trayvon Martin, that would have been pretty foolish and made him look like a liar. Instead, he said yes, I shot him, but it was justified because xyz.

But I don't think that is what is going on here. These aren't Sheppard's statements. They're his lawyers. Nothing his lawyer says in a pre-trial court conference or ...more
By ex-pat (49), East Quogue on Jul 31, 13 2:26 PM
With the caveat that hopefully defense counsel has his client's permission to go down the road upon which he appears to have embarked . . .
By PBR (4951), Southampton on Jul 31, 13 3:45 PM
You would hope so. Either way, whether he has permission or not, nothing he says can be used to impeach his client.
By ex-pat (49), East Quogue on Jul 31, 13 4:13 PM
In plea bargains, an allocution may be required of the defendant; the defendant explicitly admits specifically and in detail to what he or she did and for what reason, in exchange for a reduced sentence. In principle, it removes any doubt as to the exact nature of the defendant's guilt in the matter.

By lucy2 (63), Southampton, NY on Jul 30, 13 7:06 PM
That is certainly something that be included in a plea, and it would remove any doubt from the public record. However, I do not believe that allocution is always required, and it is just one more item to be negotiated by counsel.
By ex-pat (49), East Quogue on Jul 31, 13 11:44 AM
This is why it pays to hire a good defense attorney. Mr. Brill just admitted to all the world that his client is guilty, and that his client is just looking for a deal.

Well, defense counsel's foot-in-mount certainly improves the bargaining position of the prosecution.

I hope the plea agreement includes getting the Defendant to pay the school district back for his suspension with pay. In some respects, that pay for no work is the proceeds of the crime.

The school had ...more
By Publius (358), Westhampton Beach on Jul 30, 13 9:08 PM
1 member liked this comment
That would probably ultimately be determined by whatever contracts the teachers have with the school district.

But again, you are reading far too much into the attorney's statements. I will agree with you on this point: Mr. Brill should keep the status of plea negotiations to himself.
By ex-pat (49), East Quogue on Jul 31, 13 11:41 AM
Guilty
By news2me (7), East Quogue on Jul 31, 13 5:42 AM
you don't know all the facts, Innocent people plead out ALL THE TIME!
By LI native (127), east moriches on Jul 31, 13 12:23 PM
1 member liked this comment
So.... DA Chalifoux is lying?
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 31, 13 12:45 PM
What is with some of you people and the mistaken belief that anybody who challenges what the state attorney says is claiming that the state's attorney is lying?

Chalifoux is not some deity above repute. He is an attorney with a job to do. Attorneys are obligated to zealously represent their clients' interests within the constraints of the law. Reasonable people - and their attorneys - can differ on what a given piece of evidence means. That doesn't mean one side is lying when they advance ...more
By ex-pat (49), East Quogue on Jul 31, 13 1:44 PM
When LI Native basically says that the teacher is innocent - it must mean that the DA is lying.

I'll take the proven record of this particular DA over the unproven record of the teacher.
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 31, 13 1:48 PM
2 members liked this comment
From a prior press article- Isnt it a fact his face was seen on the cell phone setting up the video to be taken? Get real. And the people and business around town raising money for his defense fund should donate it to a victims fund or use it to run a program at the school to teach the staff the proper procedure to follow if things like this ever happen again.
By realistic (468), westhampton on Jul 31, 13 1:56 PM
3 members liked this comment
es-pat's point is well taken IMO, and Nature your broad brush seems a premature attempt for clarity and judgment IMO, in a situation where none there is.

Patience, and all will be clear.

Patience, have we discussed this before?
By PBR (4951), Southampton on Jul 31, 13 2:01 PM
1 member liked this comment
PBR - once again you read your own agenda outline.

All I said was I believe the DA. Ex-pat is trying to massage words to imply that no one is "lying". Sorry, if two people have the same facts and are saying different things it makes one a liar, no?

Try and follow this simple A+B=C logic:

DA states: "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 ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 31, 13 2:14 PM
1 member liked this comment
No, actually it doesn't. By your logic, if a trial were held and a jury found Sheppard "not guilty," Chalifoux could and should be labeled as a liar. Your position shows unfamiliarity and detachment with the reality of the system. Its as simple as that.

I also can't possibly comprehend what you mean by "the proven record of the DA." Nothing in a district attorney's record, whatever that may be, is relevant to the guilt of an individual defendant. Nor do I understand what you mean by "the ...more
By ex-pat (49), East Quogue on Jul 31, 13 2:16 PM
2 members liked this comment
To complete Nature's list:

The DA is probably also: (d) posturing, and (e) PR/marketing his pending plea deal, and he is free to do so within his ethical guidelines as a prosecutor.

The world is not as clear cut as you seem to think it is. Sometimes one has to live in a state of confusion, contradiction and paradox until matters resolve themselves. The discomfort of doing so is confronting to those who demand instant clarity IMO.

And, by the way, what does one's numerical ...more
By PBR (4951), Southampton on Jul 31, 13 3:53 PM
ex-pat perhaps you are reading too far into things.

I asked LI native if she thinks the DA is lying (i.e. presenting information which is not factual). It was a question, that's all.

Additionally, this forum is not a court of law and I can make whatever claims I please. I can state that the DA has a proven record (i.e. he has many convictions under his belt and has never been found in a court of law to be unreliable or untruthful or whatever term you want to use). The teacher ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 31, 13 3:55 PM
And ditto to ex-pat's many fine points above (2:16 PM).
By PBR (4951), Southampton on Jul 31, 13 3:56 PM
Nature why do you have to seek justification ("sound and rational") and total vote count, and put down others as wrong ("reactionary and likely bias")?
By PBR (4951), Southampton on Jul 31, 13 4:00 PM
Because I like to utilize facts? Why have you spent half your posts on this topic arguing against ex-pat and half agreeing with him? Why do you use "IMO" in virtually every post when, by the fact of you posting it, it's obviously your opinion? Why do you tell people to have a nice weekend?

I seek nothing on these boards PBR. The whole reaosn I started posting here was because there was so much mis-information being posted as truth and fact on these boards. Since I know a lot about ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 31, 13 4:07 PM
Ah, there's your problem.

"facts"

In a plea discussion, and at trial, there are NO FACTS! None. Until the judge accepts a plea, or a jury finds guilt or innocence.

Assuming you did not personally witness any of the events in this case, your understanding of past event is only YOUR understanding. The voice in your head is not "facts."

Not one of us here knows exactly, and with certainty, what happened.

Why do you keep beating your head against the wall, ...more
By PBR (4951), Southampton on Jul 31, 13 4:15 PM
Because your "inquiry" was based on a faulty assumption that has been parroted far too often on these boards.

It would seem to me that PBR spends half his posts arguing with me and half his posts agreeing because he is a reasonable person who is capable of having a reasonable discussion, which is similar to my point that reasonable people are capable of viewing the same piece of evidence and coming to entirely different conclusions. The fact that people have taken opposing positions with ...more
By ex-pat (49), East Quogue on Jul 31, 13 4:26 PM
1 member liked this comment
Ditto.
By PBR (4951), Southampton on Jul 31, 13 4:33 PM
We're not in court - I never said the defendant was guilty of anything. Just said I believe what the DA says vs. what the other person says. Wow talk about a witch hunt boys...

Never stated that the guy was guilty because he's never been to court. All I said was if I'm going to trust the word of someone, I trust the word of the DA - not the accused (based on the "evidence" that's been presented to me). Man it's scary now that you are both on the same page. Perhaps you two should try ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 31, 13 4:33 PM
PS -- one should not assume the gender of another poster IMO with puerile "ad hominem" labels such as "boys."
By PBR (4951), Southampton on Jul 31, 13 4:38 PM
I wasn't assuming, I was inferring based on the use of the "blue avatar" versus the more conventionally female "pink" avatar. You're grabbin' at straws now boy (girl?)
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 31, 13 5:17 PM
1 member liked this comment
You are reading far too much into the defense attorney's statements.

Innocent people plead out all the time. Its just the nature of a system where exercising your right to trial is too dangerous and the potential consequences too risky. Sometimes if you can get a deal that you can live with, the chance for an acquittal is just not worth the risk that you'll be found guilty by a jury. We will see what happens.
By ex-pat (49), East Quogue on Jul 31, 13 11:30 AM
1 member liked this comment
This isn't some petit larceny or low drug possession charge on a person with a long rap sheet. This is a teacher, with an otherwise clean record, who is accused of crimes of a sexual nature against children. If he didn't do it, he has to go to trial. He can not plea to those charges or even disorderly conduct from this arrest. I'm sure the DA's office is demanding his teacher's license, some probation and some time in jail. The defense is probably offering probation but no time. Please don't obfuscate ...more
By lucky and aware (44), Speonk on Jul 31, 13 3:04 PM
You're right, he can't plea to those charges. But then again, that wouldn't be much of a plea bargain. If the DA is going full-tilt, you have to go to trial. But saying that he can't accept a plea at all just doesn't jibe with reality. You're also missing what I'm sure is a huge variable in any plea negotiations: sex offender status.

Let's say, in a hypothetical plea bargain, Sheppard was offered the opportunity to plead guilty to some lesser charge, which maybe even includes a little jail ...more
By ex-pat (49), East Quogue on Jul 31, 13 4:10 PM
1 member liked this comment
Please stop making sense . . . :)
By PBR (4951), Southampton on Jul 31, 13 4:34 PM
Sheps attorney wants a plea because he is guilty , if shep went to trail he would go to jail for the max . Remember its a jury of peers when they see his face in the video during the setup of the phone in the girls locker room he will not have a chance . He did this to little girls . There is no attorney that would want to take this to trail . If he was innocent and they didn't have hard proof why not go to trail it would be one persons word against another .
By Remsen (68), Southampton on Aug 1, 13 6:21 PM
5 members liked this comment
Too many non sequiturs and too many people with too much time on their hands; instead of these dopey dialogues, I wish the commentors would sign off and do something useful like local volunteer work; these comments really add nothing to this publication (although I am thankful for the attempt at explaining the relationship between veracity and the legal process)
By realdeal (23), Southampton on Aug 2, 13 2:02 PM
Welcome to a "public forum" which you are free not to join, and from which you are welcome to leave.

Public.

Forum.

You might as well go downtown and tell everyone that their lives do not meet YOUR expectations.

Have a good weekend.
By PBR (4951), Southampton on Aug 2, 13 2:16 PM
to realdeal:

Physician, heal thyself.
By highhatsize (4176), East Quogue on Aug 2, 13 2:06 PM
1 member liked this comment
ex-pat, did you notice the recent post with possible factual circumstances which might support a certain reading of defense counsel's statement?
By PBR (4951), Southampton on Aug 3, 13 10:30 AM
Good people sometimes make very bad choices. If he is guilty then he should be punished for his crime. I don't believe he is bad man I believe his a good man that allegedly did a very bad thing. If he did this he also needs help.
By EricNichols (1), on Aug 3, 13 11:06 AM
1 member liked this comment
This is the Mr. Sheppard the girls will remember all their maturing years. The loss of trust, the shame of violation, insecurity at their own school, wondering always who else could do this to them.
We now all know that pediphiles first endear themselves to parents and kids before they plan their action. He became good friends with the school principal, when the girls came to tell her what they had found she didn't believe them and called home to tell mothers not to believe their ...more
By linews (6), westhampton on Aug 5, 13 11:43 AM
Guilty Not guilty....plea,,,, linews my concern and heart is for those girls...it should be help/counseling for all parties involved.

Is it me or does it appear that the morals integrity and respect for each others is dwindling like sand in an hour glass............? (i know I know,,,butI feel it;s true)
By MsB (17), Southampton on Aug 6, 13 12:35 AM
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