MENDOCINO Co., 9/5/18 -- A teacher at Ukiah High School has been arrested on the misdemeanor charge of annoying or molesting a child under 18 years of age. Benjamin O'Neill, 34, was arrested yesterday, Sept. 4, by the Ukiah Police Department, on the charge, and has been placed on administrative leave "pending further review." He was booked at 1 p.m. into Mendocino County Jail on $7,500 bail, and released within a few hours.
Sgt. Cedric Crook, of the UPD, explained that the victim was a 17 year old female, who was not a student at Ukiah High, and that the alleged incident occurred in September of 2017.
The charge of which O'Neill is accused, annoying or molesting a child under 18, is a broad one, that can include a variety of actions that are roughly centered around inappropriate sexual advances towards a minor. The specifics of the allegation, or what behavior O'Neill is accused of, have not been made public.
Ukiah Unified Superintendent Debra Kubin, explained that she could not provide additional information due to the fact that this matter is a personnel matter, from the district's perspective. However, she did elaborate that the high school is offering resources to students and encouraging to speak out, saying:
If the parents have any concerns or students have any concerns they should absolutely talk to Ukiah High administrators or counselors, our high school principal has been in classrooms today talking to students. They’ve also sent a letter out to families and students, letting them know that that same thing — that if they need additional support, and have additional information, who to go to.
According to O'Neill's Linked In page, he is the health occupations teacher, and has taught at Ukiah High for about five years -- the Ukiah High web-page lists him as the "scrubs" teacher.
Here is the statement from the UPD:
In May of 2018, the Ukiah Unified School District notified UPD of an incident involving alleged inappropriate conduct on the part of a teacher, later identified as Benjamin O'Neill (age 34). Further investigation revealed that the incident had happened in September of 2017. The victim was not a current student at the time. The victim is a female and was 17 at the time of the incident. UPD completed their investigation in May of 2018 and sent it to the DA's office for prosecution. Once UPD became aware that there was an active warrant issued for Benjamin O'Neill's arrest, UPD arrested O'Neill the same day at UPD (9-4-18). O'Neill was lodged at the county jail for the warrant (charge of 647.6(a)(1) PC $7,500 bail).
The administration of Ukiah Unified School District issued the following statement on the incident:
UHS Teacher Arrested for Misdemeanor
Ukiah, CA – On Tuesday, September 4, Ukiah High School (UHS) teacher Benjamin O’Neill was charged with a misdemeanor count of “annoying or molesting a child under 18.”
UUSD Superintendent Deb Kubin said, “Ben O’Neill has been placed on administrative leave pending further review. As a school district, our primary responsibility is to protect the children in our care. When a UUSD staff member is accused of illegal or inappropriate behavior, we conduct a thorough investigation. We listen to all sides of the story and do everything in our power to uncover the truth. When law enforcement investigators are involved, we are careful not to compromise their efforts. While safeguarding students, we reserve judgment in all cases until the facts have been reviewed.”
Here is the relevant text of the California Penal Code:
(a) (1) Every person who annoys or molests any child under 18 years of age shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars ($5,000), by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by both the fine and imprisonment.
(2) Every person who, motivated by an unnatural or abnormal sexual interest in children, engages in conduct with an adult whom he or she believes to be a child under 18 years of age, which conduct, if directed toward a child under 18 years of age, would be a violation of this section, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars ($5,000), by imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.
Here is a tweet about O'Neill from the district, that went out a couple years ago.
— Ukiah High School (@Ukiahi) September 22, 2015