A Portland education technician accused of multiple sex crimes has a criminal background that includes two prior convictions for operating under the influence in 2018, though it was unclear Friday whether Benjamin Conroy’s record should have excluded him from working in a school.

Conroy, 32, is now facing charges related to sexual exploitation of a child in the classroom where he works at Ocean Avenue Elementary School, and an incident Oct. 8 where he allegedly exposed himself and pressed up against a woman on the Western Promenade. On Friday, a judge said he has also been charged with indecent conduct and assault, two new charges that appear to also be related to the incident on the promenade.

Portland Public Schools became aware of Conroy’s record when the district requested and received a State Police background check Thursday – a day after police charged him with sexual exploitation of a minor, dissemination of sexually explicit material and possession of sexually explicit material, said Tess Nacelewicz, communications coordinator for the district, in an email Friday.

Normally, background checks are completed through a state certification process for school staff such as teachers and education technicians. To receive a certificate, the state requires applicants to have met the necessary academic requirements and have passed a criminal background check.

“Anyone who applies to us and holds a valid certification from the state, we accept that certification as valid,” Nacelewicz said.

Occasionally the district will conduct its own background checks at the start of the school year if the state background check process is backlogged, she said, but that did not happen in Conroy’s case.

Asked if there are certain types of crimes that would prohibit a person from working in a school, Nacelewicz deferred to the state. She said that when the district does its own checks, decisions around what would disqualify someone from employment are made on a case-by-case basis.

Kelli Deveaux, spokeswoman for the Department of Education, did not directly answer questions Friday about whether a background check must come back with no record or if there are certain convictions that would automatically exclude someone from working in a school, but shared a copy of the state’s rules for credentialing school employees.

Deveaux said all school personnel must have a criminal background check and that once the state approves it, it becomes part of the person’s credential record in an online system that school districts can access when they review credentials.

According to the rules, an applicant with a conviction must provide court documents if requested to do so by the Department of Education during the background check process. The department also has the authority to revoke, deny or suspend a credential based on a criminal conviction or evidence that a credential holder has injured the health or welfare of a child. A criminal conviction involving the physical or sexual abuse or exploitation of a child within the past five years is also sufficient grounds for denying or revoking a credential, the rules say.

According to Portland Public Schools, Conroy holds an education technician authorization from the Department of Education. Prior to being hired by the district this summer, he worked for an outside agency, Casa, and prior to that for Regional School Unit 22 in Hampden and Regional School Unit 2 Hallowell, the district said.

Conroy has past convictions for criminal trespassing in Sept. 2018, and operating under the influence and violating conditions of release in Oct. 2018, and again in Dec. 2018.

In Oct. 2018, Conroy was pulled over in Augusta and determined to be under the influence of drugs after a caller reported he had fallen asleep in the drive-thru of a McDonald’s and was then driving “all over the road,” according to court records. In Dec. 2018, police responded to a report of a car off the road in Windsor and again charged Conroy with OUI after observing several clues that he was impaired, such as lack of balance.

On. Oct. 5, 2021, the Portland Police Department received a report from a citizen about what they believed to be unlawful sexual acts that they had come across while using the dating application Grindr, according to an incident report filed by Officer Eric Johnson.

The citizen reported they had started a conversation with someone who used the screenname “Str8 Vers Anon” and who had sent them several digital photographs depicting an adult man exposing his genitals in public. Another set of photographs depicted what appeared to be the arm of a young child performing a sexual act.

The user “Str8 Vers Anon” stated to the citizen that the little girl in the photo was 7 years old and that he “had done it to her a few times.” One of the photos showed what appeared to be a tiled floor in the background and another photo showed the same tile floor and the child seated in what appeared to be a school chair.

The citizen took screenshots of the photos during the conversation and attempted to solicit more information from the user, but was unable to ascertain the user’s actual identity or location.

On Oct. 8, Johnson heard a report come in over the police department radio of a woman saying a man had shoved his genitals in her face and then grabbed her by the neck and shoved her. The man, whom police identified as Conroy, was stopped by passers-by and issued a summons for unlawful sexual contact. Johnson believed there to be similarities between the reported behavior of the Grindr user “Str8 Vers Anon” and Conroy, and when he went to interview Conroy noticed he was wearing shorts and a sweatshirt similar to those in some of the photos that had been reported.

Conroy confirmed he was the man depicted in some of the photos taken in public but denied to Johnson any knowledge when shown one of the photos of the child. Johnson met with Ocean Avenue Principal Beverly Stevens on Oct. 9. She was unable to identify the child in the photo but said she was “fairly confident” the floor and chair in the background were from her school.

Stevens called in the lead teacher for the classroom where she believed the child would have attended class, who was able to narrow the possible victims down to students in a class of children who have autism, the report said. Using the classroom staff schedule, Johnson identified which students Conroy had been working with on a weekly basis and on Oct. 12 made contact with a parent who, when shown the photo, stated she was sure it was of her daughter’s hand and clothes.

Portland Public Schools referred questions about the circumstances depicted in the incident report to police and said a district investigation remains ongoing.

Conroy was charged Wednesday with sexual exploitation of a minor, dissemination of sexually explicit material and possession of sexually explicit material. On Friday, during his initial court appearance, Cumberland County Superior Court Justice MaryGay Kennedy said Conroy has also been charged with indecent conduct and assault related to his actions on Oct. 8, the date of the incident on the promenade. Kennedy said the assault charge involved a victim with the same initials as the woman in the unlawful sexual contact charge, though it was not immediately clear if the new charges are from the same incident.

David Singer, a police department spokesman, said he could not provide any additional information Friday on what led to the additional charges.

Alec Youngblood-Avery, who represented Conroy in court as the lawyer of the day Friday, said she is not serving as his permanent attorney.

Conroy, who was placed on administrative leave from Portland Public Schools last weekend, was not asked to enter a plea to any of the charges. He did not speak during the brief hearing, which was held via Zoom, other than to state his date and place of birth.

Conroy is currently being held at the York County Jail on $50,000 cash bail and is next scheduled to appear in court May 4. Conditions of release include that he not have contact with any children under the age of 16; not be allowed to use or posses any electronic device such as phones or computers that can access the internet; not be present at any school; and not have contact with the victims in the cases.

Note: This story was updated Oct. 29 to correct the name of Casa, a private non-profit that provides behavioral health support to schools.

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