Was Kiwi Teacher Caught with Bird in Hand?

[Updated] A judge in the Auckland District Court will soon decide the fate of a New Zealand teacher accused of watching pornography on a school-issued computer and masturbating in an empty classroom.

The report of the teacher’s alleged misbehavior came from a student who said that he had stopped by the classroom to discuss his attendance record in the class. Under sharp questioning from defense counsel, the student admitted that he didn’t knock on the door, but instead had a friend boost him so that he could look in through the transom window. After numerous skeptical follow-up questions about whether the boy accurately remembered the details of the scene, particularly while peering through a window 7.5 feet in the air, the court told defense counsel to sit down.

A police interview given by the teacher was read into the record. He admitted to officers that he had been viewing pornography during his lunch hour, but insisted that he was not aroused and that his pants remained on at all times. He said that he had never masturbated on school grounds.

The Crown prosecutor also presented a statement from the school’s head of information technology. He told police that when he accessed the teacher’s Internet activity, he observed that the teacher had been viewing pornographic materials on Tumblr from 12:26pm to 1:12pm on the day in question.

Following the boy’s allegations, the teacher resigned his position at the school. He was suspended by the New Zealand Teachers Council a month later.

During the course of the trial, defense counsel contested a ruling by the District Court that an empty classroom qualifies as “in public” as a matter of law. In the event that his client is found guilty, counsel has suggested that he will appeal on the grounds that his client had a right to privacy. A ruling by Auckland District Court Judge Anne Kieman on the charges could come as early as Monday, May 11.

[2015-05-12 Update]: Auckland District Court Judge Ann Kiernan has ruled that the unnamed teacher had in fact been caught masturbating in a school classroom. She concluded that the student who made the report was credible. “”I find the student complainant to be an honest and truthful witness, understandably a little nervous at giving evidence. It was clear he had no motive to invent a story about a respected teacher,” the Judge said.

Still to be resolved is whether an empty classroom constitutes a “public place” within the meaning of the statute. The judge will issue her ruling on that point on May 22.

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