Former Jefferson employee faces charges for lewd acts

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — A Jefferson Elementary School paraprofessional, who worked at the school from February to September 2017, is currently facing criminal charges in Essex and Morris counties for alleged lewd acts. Kenneth Palmer, 21, of Randolph, is accused of masturbating in front of children and videotaping it, as well as taking inappropriate photos of girls, at least one of whom was a student, though that student’s school was not identified by prosecutors.

According to an indictment in Morris County, which was sent to the News-Record by the Morris County Criminal Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Palmer has been charged with two counts of sexual assault in the second degree, two counts of endangering the welfare of a child in the third degree and two counts of lewdness in the fourth degree. He was arrested Sept. 28, 2017, at a ShopRite in Succasunna after he allegedly masturbated in front of children in the store. According to the police report, Palmer “appeared to be attempting to get each juvenile to take note of what he was doing while at the same time attempting to avoid being observed by the juveniles’ respective parents.”

After being arrested, police went through Palmer’s cell phone and reportedly found inappropriate photos taken up girls’ skirts, as well as a video of Palmer masturbating in an unidentified school hallway where students were present. As a result of this evidence and further investigation, Essex County Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Katherine Carter told the News-Record that Palmer is also being charged with sexual assault by contact and endangering the welfare of child in Essex County. The charges were filed April 10; Palmer was already in custody in Morris County.

“In our case he is charged with sexual assault by contact and endangering for masturbating in a school hallway while recording himself with his cell phone; it occurred in a middle school,” Carter told the News-Record.

According to an April 16 letter sent to the Jefferson School community, the South Orange-Maplewood School District knew since Dec. 5 that Palmer had been arrested and knew that he was “the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation.” The letter did not identify Palmer by name, nor did it go into detail about the charges against him.

“It should be noted that law enforcement explicitly directed us not to discuss this matter during the investigation,” the SOMSD letter read. “Since criminal charges were filed against the paraprofessional in Essex County last week, we are now permitted to provide you with limited information. However, we have been directed not to release any specific details or the names of specific individuals relevant to the case.”

The letter added that, prior to Palmer being hired, “as required by State Law, the paraprofessional was cleared to work by the NJ Department of Education Criminal History Review Unit prior to being assigned to work at Jefferson.”

Following media reports last week regarding Palmer and the charges against him, the district released a second letter June 19.

“The release of further details from a police report about allegations of criminal misconduct by a former paraprofessional at Jefferson has understandably prompted questions and concerns,” the June 19 letter began. “The nature of the charges is among the most difficult that schools, parents and children would ever have to discuss together.

“Some details which have been reported in the press were not provided to administration by law enforcement, which conducted the investigations along with the Division of Child Protection and Permanency,” formerly called DYFS, the letter continued. “The videos were in possession of law enforcement and were never shared with district staff, so the district is in no position to comment on the content.”

The district also reiterated that law enforcement and related state agencies contacted directly any parent, child or staff member with whom they needed to speak about the allegations.

“We would like to reiterate that district administrators have been specifically directed by the Prosecutor’s Office to not discuss the case until after the paraprofessional in question was charged, and then to only discuss limited information,” the letter read. “We understand that the confidentiality required by the legal process can be frustrating.”