A Ukiah High School teacher suspected of an inappropriate embrace with a 17‑year‑old girl was arrested Tuesday, according to the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office.
Ukiah police arrested Benjamin O’Neill, 34, and booked him into the Mendocino County Jail. Jail records show he posted a $7,500 bond for the misdemeanor charge of annoying or molesting a child under 18 years and was released Tuesday afternoon.
O’Neill is a teacher in the school’s career technical education program. Ukiah Unified School District Superintendent Deb Kubin issued a statement Wednesday, saying O’Neill had been placed on administrative leave pending further review.
The teen told school officials in May of an alleged incident from September 2017. School officials alerted police and detectives launched an investigation involving O’Neill and a 17‑year‑old girl who wasn’t a student, Ukiah police Sgt. Cedric Crook said Wednesday afternoon in a news release.
Police in May turned over their investigation to the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office. An arrest warrant was issued and O’Neill was arrested at the Ukiah Police Department.
District Attorney spokesman Mike Geniella Thursday said the arrest stemmed from a one‑time, inappropriate embrace that happened at the high school when the girl visited in September. She had graduated in June.
Kubin in a phone interview Wednesday said a letter was sent to students and families about the situation. She also said the principal visited classrooms Wednesday and talked with students.
Counselors would be available at school for anyone needing extra support, she said.
“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,” Kubin said in her statement. “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.”
O’Neill was active in organizing a summertime healthcare program where students work with medical professionals, according to articles on the school district’s website. He also was recognized in recent years for his work with students to provide “education and leadership to dramatically reduce alcohol use at school functions.”
You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter@rossmannreport.