A Mesa Kindergarten teacher was booked into jail on 25 counts of indecent exposure and one count of child abuse after police said he removed a 6-year-old girl's shirt as a form of punishment.
Thomas Washburn, 54, a teacher at Adams Elementary School, was arrested Wednesday when the incident reportedly occurred. Maricopa County Sheriff's Office said Friday that Washburn has since been released from jail as he awaits his court date.
Police said something upset Washburn, who started shouting in the classroom filled with more than two dozen youngsters.
"She told me yesterday that he was really aggressive - telling them to shut up - real aggressively," said Israel Gonzalez, whose daughter was also in Washburn's class but is not the victim in this case.
The outburst frightened the victim and she hid her face in the top of her shirt, officers said.
The victim's mother said her daughter was born prematurely and is "developmentally delayed," according to a police report.
Officers said Washburn told the girl to take her face out of the shirt and when she did not comply, he went to her and completely removed her shirt, leaving her naked from the waist up in front of her classmates for about 10 minutes.
The girl broke down crying, police said. Washburn eventually returned her clothing.
"Total humiliation," said Daniel Mercado, who has children who attend Adams Elementary. "What is she going to do now - from first grade on? What are the parents going to think of this? Not only her parents but other parents, other parents at the school like myself? I think he went too far. He went way too far."
When the victim's mother arrived after school to pick up the child, Washburn told the parent what he had done, police said.
"It doesn't appear that he thought he had done anything wrong," said Mesa police Detective Steve Berry. "He was simply going to tell mom what he had done to discipline the child."
The mother was extremely upset and immediately contacted the principal's office, officers said.
Detectives arrested Washburn, who was taken to Mesa Police Headquarters for an interview. He declined to answer any of the detective's questions.
He was booked at that time for one count of child abuse and one count of indecent exposure. Police said at the time of the incident, there was one adult aide in the classroom.
On Thursday morning, detectives continued their investigation and added an additional 24 counts of indecent exposure, one for each of the students present at the time of the incident, police said.
Mesa Public Schools issued the following statement Thursday afternoon:
"Thomas Washburn has been placed on paid administrative leave and is assigned to home. The district will use the police findings as the basis for any future employment action against Washburn.
"Our first priority is the safety and security of our students. Mesa Police Department is leading the investigation, and we are working cooperatively with them. Please contact Mesa PD for information regarding the incident and investigation.
"Washburn has been employed by Mesa Public Schools since August 2006. His only assignment has been a teacher at Adams Elementary."
A profile of Washburn on the school's website quotes Washburn saying, in part:
"Having been certified for foster care and licensed for adoption, I am looking forward to becoming a single father for the first time and am waiting the placement of children in my home. In the meantime, I have enjoyed the opportunity of taking care of several children on a respite basis."
Authorities said their investigation is continuing.
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