By Samantha Joseph
MARTIN COUNTY - A 25-year-old Palm City man faces 12 felony charges after police said he planted a hidden camera in the girl's locker room at The Pine School in Stuart.
Michael Scott Girard, a maintenance worker at the school, faces 11 counts of voyeurism and one charge of destruction of evidence.
Investigators said he hid an Android phone in the ceiling to capture video of female students in the locker rooms of the private school's kindergarten-through-sixth-grade campus.
"The investigation revealed that Girard was the owner of the phone. However, after being seized, it was discovered that the SD memory card had been removed," Mike Pope, spokesman for the Stuart Police Department, said in a press release. "The Pine School also provided Girard's work computer, which was examined, but no images of students were found."
School officials called police after a group of sixth-grade students at The Pine School discovered the camera hidden behind a tile that had been propped up with a bottle of nail polish. The girls noticed the device when they switched off the lights in the locker room.
The students said they turned over the smart phone to Mr. Girard, the first adult they saw. But when they checked with Kelly Hilton-Green, head of the lower school, he said the employee had not passed on the device to school officials.
"(Mr. Hilton-Green) immediately found the employee, retrieved the device, placed the employee on administrative leave and escorted him off the campus because he had violated administrative procedures by not reporting immediately to the lower school head," Phyllis Parker, head of school, said in an email to parents.
Investigators worked with parents to gain permission to interview sixth graders about the incident.
They said the students' description of the phone matched Mr. Girard's cell phone. Police added a search of Mr. Girard's school computer showed no images from the locker room.
School officials said all prospective employees undergo fingerprinting at the Martin County Sheriff's Office, as well as official background and reference checks.
"This is an unfortunate, but isolated incident," Ms. Parker said.
During the investigation, the administrator sent daily email updates to parents, said Shawna Gallagher Vega, the school's director of communications and public relations.
The principal also addressed seventh to 12th graders at the school's Hobe Sound campus.
"While we have two campuses, we are one school, so we took a few moments out of their homecoming celebrations to address their concerns and remind them of the many resources available to them," Ms. Parker said.
The school offered the services of its counselor to parents and students.
"The safety and well-being of our student body is always our primary concern," Ms. Parker said.