An education technician at a Portland elementary school has been charged with sexual exploitation of a child and other sex crimes as the result of an investigation into two separate cases, one of which involved a student in a classroom for children on the autism spectrum.

Benjamin Conroy, 32, of Portland is being held in the York County Jail on $25,000 cash bail, the Portland Police Department said in a news release on Thursday. He was arrested Wednesday night and is charged with sexual exploitation of a minor, dissemination of sexually explicit material, possession of sexually explicit material and unlawful sexual contact.

Conroy works in the Beach program at Ocean Avenue Elementary School, a self-contained program for students on the autism spectrum who live throughout the city. He has been employed there since this summer and was placed on administrative leave by the district this past weekend, Superintendent Xavier Botana said in a letter to the school community on Thursday.

The charges of sexual exploitation of a minor, dissemination of sexually explicit material and possession of sexually explicit material are related to the victimization of a student in the school’s Beach K-1 classroom, Botana said.

Portland schools, in response to a question, said it has no indication that Conroy was left alone with students as a result of the district’s staffing shortage issues. The district began the school year with four ed tech vacancies. The Beach program serves nine students in K-1 and nine students in grades 2-5, the district said. The program has 20 full-time staffers in addition to a full-time behavioral health professional, a part-time board certified behavioral analyst and a part-time occupational therapist.

It wasn’t clear Thursday what circumstances led to the incident with the student and whether the incident took place at the school or a different location, though police said they were investigating a photo that appeared to have been taken inside a school.

The letter did not indicate that additional students were involved in the case, but police and school officials have said investigations are ongoing.

“I want you to know that what we understand has occurred is contrary to our top priority of ensuring all of our students are in a safe and supportive environment at all times when they are in our care,” Botana said.

“In addition to assisting law enforcement with their investigation, we are conducting our own internal investigation to determine what occurred and to understand any changes we should put in place. We are committed to conducting a full review and doing everything in our power to ensure that nothing like this will happen again.”

Conroy did not respond to a message left with an intake officer at the York County Jail seeking a telephone interview Thursday night.

LINKING TWO CASES

The Portland Police Department’s investigation into the two cases for which Conroy has been charged started Oct. 5 with a report from a person who said they received disturbing images from a man through an online dating platform. Some of the images appeared to have been taken in public, and locations in Portland were recognizable. One of the images appeared to depict a child engaged in a sexual act and the background suggested the location could have possibly been inside a school, the department said.

The case was assigned to a detective and an investigation into the source of the images was started.

Then on Oct. 8, police received a report of a woman screaming for help at around 3:45 p.m. on the Western Promenade. The 31-year-old woman said she had been walking on trails near the promenade when Conroy approached her and asked a question. She realized he was exposing himself and she walked away, police said.

When the woman got near the intersection with Pine Street, Conroy appeared a second time. He approached her and pressed against her while exposing himself, police said. She ran and screamed for help and several people in the area came to her assistance.

Witnesses followed Conroy and were able to flag down an officer who was in the area looking for him. He was taken into custody, charged with unlawful sexual contact and issued a summons to appear in court.

Once it was determined that Conroy was an employee of Portland Public Schools, investigators began to look into whether the photo provided to police earlier in the week could have been taken at a school. The school department put Conroy on administrative leave and prohibited him from being on school property or contacting students, family members or staff following the Oct. 8 incident.

LOCATION IN PHOTO A KEY

Police and the school department have since been working together to identify the victim and the location of the photo. On Wednesday, they arrested Conroy at his residence on Stevens Avenue on the other three charges.

“Crimes like these are especially traumatic for the victim and their family, the investigating officers and our community as a whole,” Interim Police Chief Heath Gorham said in the release. “This arrest would not have been possible without the assistance of the citizen who first reported the troubling images to us and the witnesses that stepped in to help the female victim who screamed for help.”

No further details on the investigation were available Thursday, the department said. The results of a criminal background check on Conroy were not available from the state Thursday night.

A spokesperson for the school district said it has a process in place for screening new hires. Every Portland Public School employee must undergo a criminal history records check that includes fingerprinting and a national check of criminal background records. Fingerprint background checks compare an applicant’s fingerprints to state and federal fingerprint databases. The district said it is not aware of any instance where it hasn’t relied on a clean criminal history records check before hiring someone.

Botana said the district is working to provide support for students and their families. “We recognize how frightening and unsettling this is for parents,” Botana said. “We are committed to providing any and all necessary support to students and families who were in the classroom with Mr. Conroy. We are actively working with community agencies to set up additional supports for families, students and educators.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report

This article was updated Oct. 18 to remove a reference to the gender of the person who reported receiving photographs through an online dating app. Police has not identified the person’s gender.

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