JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — A former Onslow County teacher has been arrested and charged with secretly recording students in his classroom.
Jacksonville police arrested Stephen J. Bera, a teacher at New Bridge Middle School, on Thursday. Detectives found a recording device that Bera had installed in his classroom, police said.
Officials said with the assistance of school officials, the device and other items of evidence were seized from the school.
Bera was later arrested and taken into custody at his home without incident. Jacksonville Police Chief Michael G. Yaniero said there were at least 19 counts issued against Bera for secretly recording.
However, the investigation is in the early stages, so just how many students were impacted and how long the recordings were done is unclear.
Yaniero did confirm at least some of the videos show students in various stages of undress. It was unclear why the students were dressing and/or undressing in a traditional classroom.
Bera is no longer employed by the Onslow County Schools system, public information officer Brent Anderson said in a news conference Friday. Anderson said Bera has given his resignation.
He was originally released on a $25,000 bond but has seen been taken back into custody as of Friday afternoon.
Anderson said a background check is done with employees in the school system by the SBI and FBI before they are hired. Anderson said there was no indication of any wrongdoing by Bera before he was hired.
“The safety and security of students in the Onslow County School system is our highest concern,” Anderson said in a statement from Onslow County Schools. “The thoughts and prayers of everyone with OCS goes out to all who have been impacted by the events which have resulted in the arrest of former teacher Stephen Bera. The Onslow County School system maintains high standards for all our employees and Mr. Bera’s actions stand in stark contrast to our expectations.”
Anderson said an investigation began after information was shared with school administrators earlier Thursday about the secret recordings. The Jacksonville Police Department was then contacted.
School staff was alerted of the incident Friday morning and parents were notified around 9:30 a.m. on Friday, Anderson said.
Bera began his employment with Onslow County Schools in 2007 as a Language Arts teacher at Hunters Creek Middle School. He also worked at Northwood Park Middle School, Onslow Virtual School and, most recently, New Bridge Middle School.
District staff have contacted administrators at these schools to make them aware of his past employment history and will be cooperating with the investigation.
Officials said the investigation is still ongoing. Detectives are working with the District Attorney’s office to identify more charges, which will be forthcoming.
“We are asking anyone with knowledge of this incident to contact to the Jacksonville Police Department. We are currently working with Onslow County school officials to identify victims and will be reaching out to those involved,” said Investigative Services Supervisor Lt. Christopher Funcke with the Jacksonville Police Department.
Police have crisis counselors on staff and available to speak with those who have been affected.
Anyone with information is asked to contact JPD Criminal Investigations Division Detective B. Stitz at 910-938-5039 or Crime Stoppers at 910-938-3273. Crime Stoppers offers cash rewards of up to $2,500 for information determined to be of value to law enforcement. Callers to Crime Stoppers are not required to reveal their identities. Information can also be anonymously texted via Text-A-Tip by typing TIP4CSJAX and your message to 274637 (CRIMES)