Kenilworth teacher cleared after police inquiry

Police have decided not to arrest an instructor at Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School who had been accused this spring of soliciting students to send him cellphone photographs of their genitalia.

The instructor, Darrion Buckles, was placed on leave amid the criminal inquiry, which began in May after two female students claimed he propositioned them during gym class.

Investigators searched Buckles’ cellphone and found several close-up photographs and a video showing a female’s genitalia, according to court records. But detectives could not prove the images depicted juveniles, said Cpl. L’Jean McKneely, a police spokesman.

McKneely said the alleged victims in the case, a 15-year-old girl and a 14-year-old girl, had “backed away” and refused to cooperate with the investigation.

“We’re pretty happy about it because it’s pretty rare that a case that serious is opened and closed that fast,” Buckles’ attorney, Benjamin LaBranche said. “He’s happy to have his life back.”

Mark Lambert, whose public relations firm represents Kenilworth, said Buckles, a physical education teacher, is expected back at the school this fall. Lambert said the school cooperated “100 percent” with the investigation.

“The school’s top priority,” he said, “was to make sure the kids were safe.”

The 15-year-old claimed Buckles had given her keys to the locker room and told her to go in there to take photographs with her cellphone. “The 15-year-old victim refused to comply with the defendant’s instructions and proceeded to a different class,” Detective Jonathan Medine wrote in an affidavit for a search warrant.

The 14-year-old told police she had a similar encounter with Buckles before Christmas break, saying she, too, had been asked to send him a photograph of her genitalia. Medine noted in his affidavit that he had learned “there were possibly other juvenile female students of the school who have been approached by the defendant and asked to send photographs of their (genitals) to him.”

The affidavit said the female depicted in the video on Buckles’ phone “was wearing a purple shirt, which is consistent with the uniform of Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School.”

Asked about the images on Buckles’ cellphone, his attorney said, “Nothing on his phone was considered to be contraband, which would have included child pornography. If they would have found anything on there that were pictures of juveniles that were inappropriate, they would not have returned anything and they would have arrested him.”

Buckles cooperated with the authorities from the outset of the investigation, LaBranche added. The affidavit noted that Buckles signed a voluntary consent for detectives to search his cellphone.

“Normally I wouldn’t have a client cooperate,” LaBranche said, “but I think his situation was a lot different and he cooperated fully.”

The school’s principal, Hasan Suzuk, sent a letter to parents saying the students’ allegations had been “inconsistent with the man we have come to know at Kenilworth.”

“You may be wondering how someone who is innocent of any wrongdoing can be subject to such an investigation or how false accusations can be given so much weight that they warrant a police investigation,” Suzuk wrote in the letter. “Please understand that we are dealing with young people, some of whom do not foresee the consequences of their actions until a situation has progressed beyond their control.”