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South Royalton Principal Pleads Not Guilty After Being Charged With Voyeurism

  • Dean Stearns, of Sharon, Vt., walks into the courtroom for arraignment on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017, at Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt. Stearns, who is the principal of South Royalton High School, is charged with voyeurism and promoting a recording of sexual conduct for allegedly recording a juvenile in the bathroom at his home. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dean Stearns, of Sharon, Vt., takes a seat before his arraignment on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017, at Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt. Stearns, who is the principal of South Royalton High School, is charged with voyeurism and promoting a recording of sexual conduct for allegedly recording a juvenile in the bathroom at his home. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dean Stearns



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, November 30, 2017

White River Junction — The principal of South Royalton School pleaded not guilty to criminal charges on Thursday following allegations he surreptitiously recorded video of a teenage girl in her bedroom and bathroom while she was staying in his home.

In an interview with police, Dean Stearns acknowledged that he purchased three hidden surveillance cameras on the internet and installed them in October in the girl’s bedroom and bathroom, according to an affidavit filed in Windsor Superior Court.

He downloaded the videos from the devices onto his computer, the affidavit states.

“Dean advised that he found (the girl) attractive,” Detective Sgt. Michael Dion wrote in the affidavit.

Stearns has been placed on administrative leave, according to a written statement from White River Valley Supervisory Union Superintendent Bruce Labs.

“We are cooperating with the authorities on this investigation,” Labs said.

In an email to school parents Thursday evening, Acting Principal Frank Romeo said that student safety “is our top priority,” and that authorities “are conducting a detailed and thorough sweep of the school premises.”

The school is also making counselors available.

At this time, Dion said, authorities do not believe there are any additional victims.

Stearns was arraigned in Windsor Superior Court on Thursday afternoon on a felony charge of promoting a sexual recording and misdemeanor voyeurism. He declined comment as he exited the courthouse.

The felony charge falls under Vermont laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation of children, and prohibits any person from knowingly promoting “any photograph, film or visual recording of sexual conduct by a child, or of a lewd exhibition” of the child’s private parts.

Judge Elizabeth Mann released Stearns on a $15,000 unsecured appearance bond. Windsor County Deputy State’s Attorney Heidi Remick sought to have him held on bail.

Remick also asked the court to prohibit Stearns from using any electronic devices. Mann allowed Stearns to keep one cellphone in his possession; he is to have no contact with juveniles under the age of 18, with the exception of his grandchildren.

The quick-moving investigation into Stearns’ conduct began at about 12:30 a.m. on Thursday, when Vermont State Police received a call from a woman who said she had reason to believe Stearns had secretly recorded a teenager who was a guest at his house, according to the affidavit.

Troopers soon responded to Stearns’ Sharon home and ordered him to leave.

In an interview early Thursday morning, the teenager told police that she believed Stearns had been spying on her since the summer, according to the affidavit.

On a vacation with Stearns and his wife in August, the teen found a cellphone propped up on the bathroom counter recording her, according to the affidavit. On another occasion, she saw Stearns watching her through a window as she changed clothes in her bedroom, the affidavit states.

About a week ago, Stearns gave her a cellphone charger to use in the bathroom, according to the affidavit. The teen found the charger wouldn’t work, unplugged it and left it on the counter, only to return later to see that it was plugged back into the wall, according to the affidavit.

On Wednesday night, the teen examined the charger more closely and found “a small embedded camera in it,” the affidavit states.

She plugged the charger into her laptop and it contained video files of her in the bathroom; the image of a man who police said identified as Stearns also was captured in recordings, according to the affidavit.

The girl told police she looked for other hidden cameras on Wednesday night and found another one embedded in an alarm clock that Stearns gave her, according to the affidavit.

Around 5 a.m. on Thursday, Stearns called police and asked to speak with a trooper about why he was ordered to leave his home, according to police.

During an interview at the barracks, Stearns acknowledged that he installed three hidden cameras — the charger, the alarm clock as well as a night light that was plugged into the girl’s bathroom wall.

He told police he downloaded the video footage onto his computer, according to the affidavit.

When police ordered Stearns to leave his property early Thursday morning, Stearns went to a relative’s house and told a family member “that he had been using cameras to secretly watch (the girl),” and that the family member went into cardiac arrest and died, the affidavit states.

The court documents don’t specify which relative died, but in court on Thursday, public defender Michael Shane said Stearns’ father died earlier in the day.

Stearns in October announced his resignation to take effect at the end of the school year.

Before being hired as principal in South Royalton in 2014, Stearns worked for six years as the technical education director at River Bend Career and Technical Center in Bradford, Vt., and before that spent 11 years as the coordinator of work experiences for the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center.

A graduate of Whitcomb High School, in Bethel, and of Community College of Vermont, Stearns also worked as a firefighter and EMT in Hartford from 1988 to 1997, according to his LinkedIn profile.

On Oct. 25 — the day after voters approved a merger of the Bethel and Royalton school districts — Stearns resigned amid complaints from teachers about a “stressful workplace climate” at the school.

In a resignation letter to the Royalton School Board, he cited “personal and professional reasons.”

Romeo, the school’s vice principal, will be acting administrator at South Royalton until further notice, according to Labs.

Stearns, who has no prior criminal record, is due back in court on Dec. 19.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcud demi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.

This story appeared in the Friday, Dec. 1, edition of the Valley News. It was updated at 10:35 a.m.



Update: A police search of the school turned up no devices that raised concerns, authorities said Friday. Read more.