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Oct 23, 2013 12:52 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Middle School Gym Teacher Pleads Guilty To Filming Girls In Locker Room

Oct 23, 2013 1:47 PM

A Westhampton Beach Middle School gym teacher pleaded guilty Wednesday morning to secretly filming seven female students as they were changing their clothes in the girls locker room last winter.

Thomas Sheppard, 28, of Speonk entered guilty pleas to all the charges filed against him, including one felony count of second-degree unlawful surveillance and seven misdemeanor counts of endangering the welfare of a child—one for each of his victims who were either 13 or 14 years old.

Mr. Sheppard, who had been suspended with pay since his arrest last March and free on $25,000 bail, is expected to receive five years of probation for the felony count and three years of probation for the misdemeanors, though they are expected to run concurrently, when he is sentenced on December 18 by Judge Barbara Kahn.

But lead prosecutor James Chalifoux, the deputy bureau chief of the Major Crime Bureau at the Suffolk County district attorney’s office, said he will still seek a prison term of between 16 months and four years, which is the maximum sentence allowed, for Mr. Sheppard.

As part of his sentence, Mr. Sheppard is also expected to be forced to register as a sex offender for at least 20 years, though the level he must register at—offenders are ranked on a scale of 1 to 3, based on the likelihood of re-offense—has not yet been decided by the courts. Additionally, seven orders of protection will remain in place, prohibiting Mr. Sheppard from contacting any of the victims.

Mr. Chalifoux also noted after Wednesday’s appearance in the Suffolk County Criminal Court in Riverhead that Mr. Sheppard and his attorney, Peter Brill of Hauppauge, had been attempting to negotiate a plea deal with prosecutors since Mr. Sheppard’s arrest seven months ago.

Before accepting his guilty plea, Judge Kahn required that Mr. Sheppard admit that he purposely planted his cellphone, with its recording feature turned on, in the girls locker room on February 26. Prosecutors, who recovered the recording even though Mr. Sheppard had deleted it, said the video clearly shows seven girls changing their clothing.

Mr. Sheppard, who did not address the eight family members of the victims who were sitting in the audience, offered only one-word responses in the affirmative when questioned by Judge Kahn. The victims were not present in the courtroom.

“Guilty,” said Mr. Sheppard, who was dressed in a navy blue suit and did not offer any explanation for his crime, when asked to enter his plea. He was accompanied in court by his parents.

Mr. Sheppard remains free on bail and left the courtroom without offering any comment.

After the proceedings, the mother of one of the teenage victims said she was relieved that Mr. Sheppard would be forced to register as a sex offender, though she and other parents still hope that he will also serve time in jail. The woman, who did not offer her name in order to protect the identify of her daughter, noted that all of the victims had been unfairly treated by the community since the arrest of Mr. Sheppard, a popular gym teacher and coach, explaining that many students accused them of lying about the incident.

“It was basically, ‘Look what these girls did to this man,’” the woman said. “And now, hopefully, it’s, ‘Look what this man did to these girls.’”

She added that it was shocking to hear him admit to filming her daughter and six other girls. One of the other parents left the courtroom in tears.

“They’re all affected at varying degrees,” the mother said, referring to the victims. “They’re kids. They’re going to be okay, because they have awesome parents that are going to make sure they’re okay. [But] they’ll always remember it.”

Mr. Brill, Mr. Sheppard’s attorney, said his client was “extremely remorseful” for what occurred, noting that is the main reason why he agreed to plead guilty rather than fight the charges and force a criminal trial, which most likely would have forced the victims to testify in court.

“He didn’t want to put the families and the victims through anything else,” Mr. Brill said. “He didn’t want to further embarrass his school community, and he thought this was the best way to go for those reasons.

“The fact that he did a lot of good in his career as a teacher should not be overshadowed by this one admittedly, incredibly stupid action,” he added.

Michael Radday, the superintendent of the Westhampton Beach School District, wrote in an email that Mr. Sheppard submitted his letter of resignation to the district on Monday. Mr. Sheppard, a tenured teacher, was making about $80,000 at the time of his arrest.

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. Mr. Sheppard was arrested in March.

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What's wrong with this picture? he's caught filming young girls in their locker room, and he gets suspended WITH PAY?
By SagHarborBob (91), Life is Good on Oct 23, 13 1:40 PM
He was suspended with pay pending the outcome of the trial. I hope (though don't know) that he will have to give that money back. The district certainly should sue him for the $$ if it's not given back that's for sure.
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Oct 23, 13 2:27 PM
1 member liked this comment
To all of you relentless, anonymous "post-ers" and "Shep Supporters"....where are all of your APOLOGIES to the victims? The forum is all yours....
By news2me (7), East Quogue on Oct 23, 13 1:40 PM
If you knew this man, you'd realize how ignorant these comments are.
By ChristianIntorcia (1), Westhampton on Oct 23, 13 4:47 PM
2 members liked this comment
I do know him- or I thought I did. And these comments are NOT ignorant.
By Caboose (2), East quogue on Oct 23, 13 6:41 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Lets go mets (377), Southampton on Oct 23, 13 8:42 PM
2 members liked this comment
Perhaps a bit of mirror-imaging of here?
By news2me (7), East Quogue on Oct 24, 13 10:55 AM
GUILTY!! The fact that these young girls had to hear the comments in the community to support this guy really breaks my heart. And now look --- these girls deserve an apology from the local businesses that put posters in their establishment to support him, the "support shep" bracelets that were given out to students at school sporting events - Comments such as "These girls need to be held accountable for what they have done!" Shame on all of you. Total disappointment in WHB school and the community. ...more
By News1171 (3), east quogue on Oct 23, 13 1:44 PM
Guilty!! Guilty!! Guilty!! SMH
By news2me (7), East Quogue on Oct 23, 13 1:46 PM
Yes, I too would be interested to see how many of those vehemently defending him on the boards will now apologize here. If they're man (or woman) enough to make the accusations in the first place, they should admit their wrong "publicly".

But I'm sure there are some who subscribe to the HHS belief of "guilt" (in reference to the other pedo case involving an architect who pleaded guilty to creating morphed images) that he only plead guilty because he didn't think he would get a fair trial ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Oct 23, 13 2:29 PM
to Nature:

Your implication that I would apologize for Mr. Sheppard's behavior is truly despicable and your analogizing of his case to the Jay Sear's case is cretinous.

Clearly, a teacher's clandestine videoing of teenage female students under his charge while they disrobed in a high-school dressing room is condemnable conduct on many levels and well-deserving of criminal sanction. However, NONE of the malign intent manifested by Thomas Sheppard was present in the Jay Sears' case ...more
By highhatsize (4183), East Quogue on Oct 23, 13 3:49 PM
HHS - never said you would apologize for it. You are to only be offended at yourself for jumping the gun... what was that syndrome you accused me of in the past?

I simply stated that "I'm sure there are some who subscribe to the HSS belief of "guilt". Never did I say that HHS doesn't believe Mr. Sheppard is guilty. I was trying to point out that there are some apologists out there who surely will try to wiggle their way out of admitting they were wrong when defending Mr. Sheppard. ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Oct 23, 13 3:53 PM
I don't recall people "vehemently defending him" What I DO recall is people calling for him to have his day in court. This is America, Nature, and, although lunatics like you would prefer to hang people on the spot, we are all entitled to a defense.
By witch hazel (224), tatooine on Oct 23, 13 4:26 PM
Actually many people did "vehemently defend " him. They accused the girls of making the whole incident up and ruining this mans life. Absolutely he deserved a day in court, and now that day has come. But those girls also deserved the case to be heard before people condemned them.
By bubby (236), southampton on Oct 23, 13 4:37 PM
If you REALLY knew why this happened, your call for those who "vehemently defended" him would be uncalled for...
By just breath (82), yuck on Oct 26, 13 10:15 AM
just breath....you don't know what REALLY happened!!!!
By news2me (7), East Quogue on Oct 28, 13 5:12 PM
Damn. That's messed up.
By johnj (1019), Westhampton on Oct 23, 13 2:33 PM
2 members liked this comment
I am so glad that these young ladies were finally vindicated. I hope they each receive a personal apology from the school district, their peers, the jerks on twitter that were bashing them, the community at large who "were so sure this guy couldn't do such a thing and these girls must have made it up".

Ladies, hold your heads high, don't let him, or the people who didn't support you leave a dark shadow on any of your sunny days ahead.
By Eliza (29), Westhampton Beach on Oct 23, 13 3:02 PM
This should be a wake up call to all School Boards to end the absurd lifetime contracts that Long Island teachers are given. Furthermore, his Union, who claims to be in it for the children, will no doubt help him fight for a piece of his pension. What a joke.
By PoliWatchdog (2), Wading River on Oct 23, 13 3:32 PM
You wingnuts always find a way to blame unions. Your post is pure conjecture based on what - nothing. What does this have to do with a "lifetime contract"? He will now be officially fired for violating the law and his contract. Are you saying that if he were not in a union he would not have done this? Try thinking before typing.
By witch hazel (224), tatooine on Oct 23, 13 4:27 PM
1 member liked this comment
Save it for the Faculty room Miss Educator. You're Ok with this creep earning taxpayer money that has not yet been returned? You ought to be ashamed of yourself.
By PoliWatchdog (2), Wading River on Oct 23, 13 4:34 PM
2 members liked this comment
Where did he blame unions? Perhaps the lifetime contract thing is a bit off topic, but I can't begin to imagine how you came to the conclusion that the poster above said that if he weren't in a union he wouldn't have done this. Talk about wingnuts!
By day by day (1), Southampton on Oct 23, 13 11:17 PM
Eighty. Thousand. Dollars. A. Year.
By Miss K. (103), East Quogue on Oct 23, 13 4:02 PM
Not anymore...
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Oct 23, 13 4:14 PM
Not anymore is correct. He'll now cost tax payers $167,000 a year while he does his prison time.
By double standard (1506), Remsenburg on Oct 23, 13 5:02 PM
you may want to reread the story...
By just breath (82), yuck on Oct 26, 13 10:16 AM
just breath....I think YOU need to REREAD the story
By news2me (7), East Quogue on Oct 28, 13 5:14 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By SampsonSimpson (6), on Oct 23, 13 5:35 PM
1 member liked this comment
This is the first time the person was caught ... How many times has he done this to same or others. To the young ladies, be strong and god bless you and your families.
By sandy5816 (6), Wesley Chapel on Oct 23, 13 6:45 PM

Maybe not just a "One time"... Videoing temptation with consequences he chose to challenge...
But rather the "First time".. He got caught...
Who knows what his personal video library looks like?
180 days a year times the number of years employed could include countless other victims.
A. James Bond... He was not...
By kahuna (69), Tampa on Oct 23, 13 6:54 PM
1 member liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Lets go mets (377), Southampton on Oct 23, 13 8:39 PM
Isn't how the sentencing written slightly weird. he pleads guilty on all counts. His attorneys talk of probation and concurrent sentences. The prosecutor talks about the max.

Why would you ever plead guilty without a deal in place to mitigate your punishment? You may as well plead "not guilty" because according to the way this is written, you can still get the max for each count.

By Hambone (513), New York on Oct 23, 13 11:15 PM
Juries only decide the existence of facts establishing guilt or innocence. Based on the juries' findings, the judge decides the sentence within the guidelines for the established crime.

My guess from reading counsel's position is that the sentencing guidelines for the crimes in question range from a minimum of probation to a maximum of a 4 year prison sentence. The defense was probably unable to work out a plea with the prosecutor that did not include jail time, so they elected to plead ...more
By ex-pat (49), East Quogue on Oct 27, 13 3:18 PM
this support from the beginning was absurd...I like how the one parent, in earth II conditions, had to stand up at a school board meeting (as reported in the sh press) to tell the community not to rush to judgement on his INNOCENCE...he should be sentenced to what john torturro had to do in 'big lebowski' and walk to up to the new community he lives in, door to door and tell each homeowner what he's done
By jaboga (11), Speonk on Oct 24, 13 12:04 AM
1 member liked this comment
As usual this board comes up with some real stupid comments. I remember maybe one or two people defending this guy not alot of people. If the accusations were made today about another teacher by other students the same rule applies. Let the legal process run its course, and find out the truth. A teacher who has a career on the line needs to be given the benefit of the doubt until the truth is found. There have been many teachers in the world who have their lives destroyed by false allegations.
...more
By chief1 (2786), southampton on Oct 24, 13 7:46 AM
2 members liked this comment
It wasn't that people wanted a fair trial or saying he was innocent until proven guilty, it was that people (mostly in the public, not on the boards) were accusing the children of lying and making up stories because the teacher would "never" be capable of such a thing. That was the problem
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Oct 24, 13 9:21 AM
it was in the Southampton press, chief (put the ball in the basket), so stupid is as stupid goes...there was even a pic with a caption
By jaboga (11), Speonk on Oct 24, 13 1:16 PM
Chief1 "alot" is TWO words 'A LOT'... come on!!!
By Qguy (27), quogue on Oct 24, 13 11:22 PM
"Incredibly stupid action" doesn't really begin to cover what this guy did, does it?
By johnj (1019), Westhampton on Oct 24, 13 1:20 PM
2 members liked this comment
"The fact that he did a lot of good in his career as a teacher should not be overshadowed by this one admittedly, incredibly stupid action,” he added.
REALLY???
So much wrong with this statement! Was it a misprint? Did someone actually say this?
Incredibly stupid? OR Horrific, abusive, disgusting, pathetic, illegal, immoral, offensive... not to mention what this "stupid action" has done to young innocent girls' lives!
By Caboose (2), East quogue on Oct 24, 13 3:31 PM
4 members liked this comment
Hang your head low if you publicly supported him. Hang signs in your store front apologizing to the victims if you had a sign of support for him. Hand out bracelets that say “Shep is guilty” Now it is time to see how the admin at the school covered for him and who will be held accountable.
By Qguy (27), quogue on Oct 24, 13 11:19 PM
4 members liked this comment
The fact is he was innocent until proven guilty. Sitting here making these comments that you knew for a fact he was guilty is stupid. Most of you have a mob mentality thinking we should give him some long sentence or some sort of capital punishment. What he did was stupid and wrong on every level. Thank God this idiot or Jay Sears never physically abused any child. This guy ruined his life no jail sentence will ever equal ruining his career, and personal life. People need to understand that there ...more
By chief1 (2786), southampton on Oct 25, 13 9:01 AM
Chief,
Facts be facts. An idiot like this goes to prison with a reputation for having "short eyes" (an attraction to underage children) will make his life a living hell. Appropriate punishment. Course the victims weren't your kids, so we'll set him lose.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Oct 25, 13 2:25 PM
"Thank God this idiot or Jay Sears never physically abused any child. This guy ruined his life no jail sentence will ever equal ruining his career, and personal life."

The first sentence is speculation, we don't know what he's never done and the 2nd sentece is not accurate.

Any amout of time in jail when you are convicted of a crime against children has the potential to be a living nightmare.
If I were in his shoes right now I would do what ever it takes to keep from being ...more
By user.name (46), the jungle on Oct 25, 13 2:43 PM
Holy crap I actually kind of agree with Blank. Though this guy has self ruined his life I am positive he isn't going to jail because he pleaded guilty in a short amount of time. No Blank if it was my child the only one going to prison would be me for murder of a pervert. We are in a liberal state that likes to think they can re wire and rehabilitate the crazy. I can't trust some liberal idiot judge for justice. My solution is what every parent who had a child who was a victim of abuse wants to ...more
By chief1 (2786), southampton on Oct 25, 13 2:51 PM
kudos to the community members who have dropped the mantra 'he was set up' and are now using this one 'well he had to plea, it was his only option otherwise he had to do jail time'...poor ariel castro, he was badgered so much he had to go and hang himself...these plea people, theyre innocent but this gets forced on them...'he was set up...he had to take this plea'...what a wall of undying support
By jaboga (11), Speonk on Oct 26, 13 12:38 AM
Did you read the article? Try it again. The article is at odds with practical law. He hopes for probation. He pleads guilty! The prosecutor wants the max. None of this makes sense at all. Again, why plead guilty w/o a deal in place (no mention of that now is there)? If the prosecutor id going for the max he should have had his case tried. He's have no downside.
By Hambone (513), New York on Oct 26, 13 10:46 AM
First of all you will not get a deal if the evidence is overwhelming against you . Second a good lawyer would never tell his client to go to trial when he is obviously guilty and in a case such as this with minors involved and the nature of what was done a jury will find him guilty . Deals are only given if the evidence is weak , when it's a slam dunk there are know deals . Don't try to find reason that he was set up it is absurd . If he was innocent he would of went to trial and rolled the dice ...more
By Remsen (68), Southampton on Oct 26, 13 6:36 PM
1 member liked this comment
Are you an English major as well as a legal scholar?
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Oct 26, 13 10:39 PM
Its not at odds with practical law and Remsen's analysis is probably correct. There is plenty of downside to take it to trial. The prosecutor probably offered a deal that included a prison sentence, but the minimum sentence is probation.

If the defense attorney reviewed the evidence and concluded that they had Sheppard dead to right, under those circumstance the best strategic move is a guilty plea with no deal in place, and a hope that the judge sentences lightly. Considering his contrition ...more
By ex-pat (49), East Quogue on Oct 27, 13 3:29 PM
1 member liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By chief1 (2786), southampton on Oct 27, 13 3:54 PM
I asked the legal question because I am not a legal scholar at all.
I am in all honesty an English major (as well as two other degrees)...but no law.
By Hambone (513), New York on Oct 27, 13 5:02 PM
1 member liked this comment
I was referring to Remsen, Hambone.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Oct 28, 13 2:18 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Hambone (513), New York on Oct 30, 13 9:06 AM
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