El Segundo teacher accused of sexual assault was popular, police say
A teacher accused of sexually assaulting two fifth-grade boys in an El Segundo classroom was a popular and charismatic figure who volunteered or worked for at least four Southern California youth programs, police said Thursday.
Jeffrey Simonek, 27, was placed on administrative leave from his job at Center Street School in the El Segundo Unified School District after authorities launched their investigation in August, said El Segundo Police Lt. Raymond Garcia.
Since then, Garcia said, investigators have discovered that Simonek had access to hundreds of other children though work as a counselor at a Lake Tahoe-area summer camp that drew boys ages 6 to 11 from 2005 to 2011.
He also volunteered at The Painted Turtle, a youth camp in Lake Hughes for children with serious medical conditions co-founded by actor Paul Newman; the South Bay Conservatory in Torrance; the now-defunct RnB Dance Studio in Torrance and the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County, Garcia said.
Garcia said officials believe Simonek preyed on other boys he met at camp and other programs. Police discovered applications for a teaching position in Colorado and for jobs at other youth organizations during a search of his Torrance residence.
Simonek took pains to cultivate friendships with parents, who invited him to family vacations, bar mitzvahs, baseball games and to babysit and housesit, Garcia said.
“He ingratiated himself in the lives of numerous families here, in Northern California, Colorado and Nevada to get himself closer to the kids he established inappropriate relations with,” Garcia said. “He’s a manipulator, in my opinion.”
Garcia said some parents have accused El Segundo police of going on a “witch hunt” against Simonek but said officials were putting information out about him so that other children who may have been abused would feel comfortable stepping forward.
“These are young, very impressionable kids who are afraid to come forward,” he said. “We want to let them know it’s OK, they didn’t do anything wrong.”
Simonek was arrested about 6:50 p.m. Wednesday by El Segundo police investigators on three counts of lewd acts with children under the age of 14. Bail was set at $300,000. He was scheduled to appear at the Airport Courthouse in Los Angeles on Friday.
Keith Rhodes, chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County, said in a statement that Simonek had volunteered for the program for six months in 2005 and 2006. He would provide no details but said the organization was working with law enforcement.
“We are alarmed and deeply saddened by reports of any child being harmed,” he said in the statement.
Anyone with information or allegations regarding Simonek is urged to contact El Segundo police Det. Jeff Humphrey at (310) 524-2284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- Teresa Watanabe