Former Kennard-Dale student guilty of lifting fellow student's skirt to take 'a peek'
A former Kennard-Dale High School student accused of inappropriately touching and possibly trying to "upskirt" two girls at the school has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge for lifting the skirt of one of the girls.
Christopher Michael Rustin, 19, still faces charges in juvenile court for a case allegedly involving the same behavior but a different victim, according to deputy prosecutor Taylor Katherman.
Defense attorney Chris Ferro said because Rustin was 17 when the first allegation was made against him, that case was moved to juvenile court. Rustin was 18 when he lifted the skirt of a second fellow student, Ferro confirmed, which is what the young man pleaded guilty to Tuesday.
"He has grown up significantly since the time of the event," Ferro said of his client.
Ferro called Tuesday's plea and sentence a fair disposition and said he expects to resolve the juvenile case as well.
"I think the case was blown out of proportion from the beginning," he said.
Rustin, of Cross Roads, pleaded guilty in York County Court on Tuesday, June 25, to a misdemeanor count of open lewdness.
Negotiated agreement: In exchange for his plea, misdemeanor charges of invasion of privacy and indecent assault were dropped.
"I went behind the victim and I lifted up her skirt," Rustin told presiding Common Pleas Judge Gregory M. Snyder in court when Snyder asked Rustin what happened.
Snyder sentenced Rustin to a year of probation and ordered him to pay court costs and to continue with counseling. He also is forbidden to have any contact with the victim in the case. It was the sentence agreed upon by prosecutors and Ferro.
The judge handed down the sentence after questioning Katherman about whether the victim in the case supported the plea agreement.
Katherman explained that the York County District Attorney's Office repeatedly tried to call the family and sent them letters.
"We have attempted on multiple occasions to reach (the victim and her family)," Katherman said in court. "They've not returned any of our communications."
The background: State police began investigating in February 2018, after school officials notified them that two girls who are Kennard-Dale students had complained about Rustin — who was a senior at the time — touching them under their skirts and other unwanted behavior, court documents state.
On Feb. 16, 2018, school principal Heather Venne told troopers that Rustin grabbed one girl's skirt and touched her buttocks and that a second student also came forward that day with a similar complaint, documents state.
Video surveillance in one of the school's stairwells showed Rustin walking closely behind the girl, then reaching up and grabbing her skirt while holding his cellphone in his right hand and trying to aim it under the girl's skirt to take a photo, court documents state.
At Venne's prompting, the girl wrote a statement about Rustin that read, in part:
"He has repeatedly touched me inappropriately, and I've told him multiple times to stop. Basically, every time I wear a skirt to school he follows behind me from class to class and touches my rear. ... I'm not the only one this has happened to either. A friend of mine ... told me that the exact same thing happened to her sometime in the 2016-2017 school year."
The girl ended her statement by writing, "I don't want to see this happen to any other girls," court documents state.
The second girl also gave the principal a written statement on Feb. 16, saying Rustin was following her "very, very" closely, documents state:
'Back the hell off': "He touched my butt (and) it was confident enough to be a grab so it took me a moment to realize what had happened. ... So I turned around and said back the hell off, and ran down the steps. ... he touched the bottom of my butt."
She wrote that she largely stopped wearing dresses and skirts to school after the incident, documents state.
The same day, Rustin provided a statement to the principal stating "I upskirted a fellow senior due to the temptation of an opportunity presenting itself. I did not record anything, just lifted her skirt and that was it," documents allege.
When state police interviewed Rustin, he told them he followed one of the girls in the stairwell, then grabbed the girl's skirt "because he wanted to lift it up 'to get a quick peek' underneath it," according to court documents.
"The defendant admitted he has tried to look under (that girl's) skirt and grabbed onto her clothing in the past," documents state.
Those documents also quote Rustin as saying, "I can say that I have been in this situation before, though not as an adult, and have committed acts like this in the past. There was some concern I may have taken pictures and recorded with my devices but I assured those who asked that was not the intention. Only wanted a quick peek and be done with it."
He also acknowledged he did the same thing to the second girl who came forward, according to police.
Zero tolerance: Around the time the incidents came to light, South Eastern School District Superintendent Jeffrey D. Hughes told The York Dispatch that the district has a zero-tolerance policy for such conduct.
He said the district works within state and federal laws "to ensure the safety and security of all students."
He said the district's schools always investigate allegations of impropriety and notify police even if it's not clear a law has been broken.
"We take our student code of conduct very seriously," Hughes said.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.