Two people charged with failing to report sexual abuse allegations against James Eschert; more arrests coming

Published on Wednesday, 24 August 2022 14:17
Written by JUSTIN MUSZYNSKI

@MUSZYNSKIBP

PLYMOUTH – Two people have been charged with failing to report alleged sexual abuse of local students by former elementary school teacher James Eschert.

Police on Wednesday said Sherri Turner, 59, of Farmington, and Melissa Morelli, 45, of Plymouth, have each been charged. Two additional arrests are expected.

According to police, Turner and Morelli each face one count of failure to report abuse, neglect or injury of a child or imminent risk of serious harm to a child. They are free on a promise to appear and are each set to face a judge on Sept. 7 in New Britain Superior Court. 

Turner took over as principal of Plymouth Center School in 2019, though school records on Wednesday did not list her as working for the district. Morelli has served as a second-grade teacher at the school. She also was not listed on Wednesday in the staff directory for the school.

In a letter sent out to parents on Tuesday, Superintendent of Schools Brian Falcone said a total of four current or former employees of the school are expected to be charged.  

“The Plymouth Public Schools have learned that arrest warrants have been issued for three Plymouth Center School employees and one former Plymouth Center School administrator for failure to report allegations of abuse or neglect of students by former teacher James Eschert,” Falcone wrote. “The current employees were placed on administrative leave when the district notified the Department of Children and Families of the alleged failure to report.” 

“Since this is a pending criminal investigation, we cannot comment or share any further details,” Falcone continued. “The safety and well-being of our students will always be our top priority, and we affirm our commitment to protect our children and act in their best interest. All allegations of abuse or neglect of children must be reported to the Department of Children and Families for investigation. Failure to do so is inconsistent with the law and our policies and will not be tolerated.”

Police allege that multiple individuals, including Turner and Morelli, failed to report the illegal sexual abuse committed by Eschert against some of his female students. 

According to the arrest warrant for Eschert, Falcone expressed concern to authorities during the investigation that Eschert’s behavior may have been known by some and even covered up. At least one of the victims who was interviewed by police said she complained a number of times to school officials about Eschert’s behavior, but nothing was done about it.  

Eschert, 51, has pleaded not guilty to five felony counts of risk of injury to a minor and two misdemeanor counts of fourth-degree sexual assault. Police allege he fondled and caressed some of his female students, in addition to sometimes touching himself over his clothes in the presence of minors, according to court documents. 

Complainants told police Eschert would often invite girls to sit on his lap and ask them to stay inside with him when the other kids were out at recess. According to court documents, one girl told police that Eschert would move her body on top of his genitals after inviting her to sit on his lap. 

A complainant also alleged that Eschert commonly gave some of his female students paper to decorate under his desk while he had his genitals “in her face or another girl’s face,” the warrant said. The girl also contended that Eschert at times would touch himself over his clothing, according to the warrant.

One girl told investigators he would rub her shoulders and touch her breasts over her clothing each day to see if she was wearing a bra or not, the arrest warrant in the case said. On one occasion, the girl alleges, he touched her breasts under her shirt, the document continued.

The allegations came to light after a former student of Eschert’s gave a letter to an administrator in September 2021, describing some of the allegations. 

Eschert had been a teacher in Plymouth since 1998. He primarily taught the third and fourth grade over the course of more than 20 years, with a brief stint teaching the second grade. He parted ways with the school district during the investigation.

Justin Muszynski can be reached at 860-973-1809 or jmuszynski@bristolpress.com.



Posted in The Bristol Press, Plymouth, Terryville on Wednesday, 24 August 2022 14:17. Updated: Wednesday, 24 August 2022 14:19.