Former cop in molestation case may have sexted more than one teen: Prosecutor

Aimee Ambrose
York Dispatch

A former York City Police officer accused of child molestation may have also sexted another teenager on social media, according to the prosecutor.

Joseph Palmer Jr., 29, is set to appear in court Tuesday as attorneys go head-to-head over moves to bar witnesses and a phone call, and to dismiss some of the charges in his case.

According to a 2019 newsletter, Joseph Palmer Jr. served in the Army National Guard, as a Lancaster County Corrections CERT officer and as a York County 911 dispatcher before joining the York City Police Department.

Palmer faces counts of unlawful sexual contact with a minor, indecent assault of a minor, corruption of minors, unlawful sexual communication with a minor, having sexual images of a minor on a computer and child pornography.

Investigators allege he molested a teen twice between September 2021 and January 2022 shortly after the two met.

They initially had a mentor-like relationship, but it allegedly turned sexual as they messaged each other on Snapchat. Police said Palmer asked the teen lewd questions, asked for lewd photos and videos, and sent lewd images of himself.

Palmer, a former juvenile engagement officer, also allegedly asked the teen to delete conversations and other items from her phone. The two also allegedly set their Snapchat accounts to immediately delete their messages, court documents show.

The teen broke things off with Palmer by February 2022 and blocked him on social media, police said.

Allegations were then reported to York City Police early that March, and Palmer was charged five months later.

His attorney, Christopher Ferro, recently filed petitions that challenged certain evidence and a plan to bring forward several witnesses. He also sought to have some of the charges dismissed.

The evidence in question involves a phone call police said Palmer made to a friend at York County Children, Youth and Families the day after the allegations were reported and he was placed on leave. He allegedly wanted to get information on who made the report.

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The friend on the other end of the call reportedly stood near their Ring security system and it recorded the call. Ferro argued Palmer was unaware of the recording, which violated prohibitions in Pennsylvania’s Wiretap Act.

Ferro also argued in a habeas corpus petition that investigators sought but couldn’t obtain evidence of alleged sexual images or videos, saying there’s no proof Palmer sent such images or received any.

He called for dismissing the unlawful sexual communication with a minor, sexual images and child pornography charges in the case.

On another point, Ferro challenged plans to introduce several witnesses. They reportedly talked to investigators about how Palmer had also sent them lewd images via Snapchat during their relationships.

He argued the conversations were consensual and no complaints were reported about the messages, and that the witness’ testimony could prejudice a jury against Palmer at trial.

The York County District Attorney’s Office has a different take.

Assistant DA Erin Kraska filed a motion last week to introduce prior bad acts under state rules of evidence.

In the document, Kraska argued the witnesses would show Palmer had a pattern of behavior. He’d allegedly talk them into communicating on Snapchat; they’d sometimes play 20 questions; and conversations would turn sexual with images and videos exchanged, according to the filing.

A social media post announcing Joseph Palmer Jr.'s appointment as the York City Police Department's juvenile engagement officer.

Palmer allegedly used two Snapchat accounts with the witnesses, the same ones investigators said he used with the teen in the criminal case.

Kraska’s filing lists 11 witnesses, all with similar accounts of those interactions.

The group includes a person who was 15 years old and also allegedly had sexual conversations with Palmer. The document alleges Palmer told the teen not to take screenshots or save their conversations, and that he wanted to meet up at some point.

Kraska argued the testimony from the witnesses would speak to Palmer’s “common plan or scheme” in directing females he met to Snapchat where conversations would turn sexually explicit. Kraska said the witnesses could also describe common proclivities of his similar to allegations in the criminal case.

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Kraska also argued the witnesses would testify to the Snapchat accounts Palmer allegedly used as a way to establish identity.

Kraska said the evidence may be prejudicial, but that’s outweighed by the evidence’s probative value, the filing states.

The hearing on the filings is scheduled to be held in York County Court of Common Pleas Judge Harry Ness on Tuesday afternoon.

Palmer is currently free on an unsecured $50,000 bail, court documents show.

— Reach Aimee Ambrose at aambrose@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @aimee_TYD.