(PHILADELPHIA) — A Philadelphia high school choir director pleaded not guilty Tuesday to multiple charges of unlawfully touching, hugging and texting his female teen students in a way that the district attorney called “grotesquely inappropriate.”
Tyrone Dinkins, 37, was arraigned Tuesday in Warminster, Pa., after turning himself in. He was charged with 16 counts of unlawful contact with minors, corruption of minors and indecent assault, according to court documents.
Dinkins is the choir director at William Tennent High School where he has worked since 2001. The choir is currently in London to perform for the Olympics.
Dinkins did not go to London because he was immediately put on leave in June after allegations emerged that he had engaged in improper conduct with eight students between the ages of 16 and 19 during the 2011-2012 school year, according to the Warminster Township Police.
In a court document, a police officer described his interviews with Dinkins’ eight alleged victims. The teens described groping and pinching of their buttocks and breasts, inappropriate text messages and comments at school about their appearances and frequent hugging that made them uncomfortable.
They also alleged that Dinkins would tell them about dreams he had about them.
A 16-year-old victim told police Dinkins, “told her that she looked like his own personal playboy bunny.” An 18-year-old victim said that the topic of the end of time came up around midterms and Dinkins allegedly whispered in her ear, “If it was just me and you, we would repopulate.”
In one of the more physical alleged encounters, a 19-year-old said that Dinkins told her to go into the Digital Music Room so that he could tell her about a dream he had about her. He allegedly followed her into the room where the lights were off.
“She stated that Dinkins came up behind her and put his arms around her, placing his hands on her stomach,” the arrest affidavit said. “She stated that he felt her up, rubbing her breasts with his hands. Dinkins also kissed the right side of her neck one or two times.”
Police said they interviewed Dinkins on June 28 and he allegedly admitted to some of the accusations, including the incident in the Digital Music Room. He allegedly initially told police that he did not rub the student’s breasts, but then said, “it was possible that his hand accidentally brushed her breast.”
“He admitted he flirted with female students and that he had mouthed to them things like ‘Olive Juice’ which looks like ‘I love you’ and ‘I want to vacuum,’ which looks like another phrase,” the police wrote in the arrest affidavit. “He also admitted to patting and slapping female students on the butt, and to pinching them, including pinching a female student’s breast, while at school.”
“This mercifully is of the lower level, we’re not charging him that there was actual sexual intercourse, but just grotesquely inappropriate,” Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler told ABC News’ Philadelphia affiliate WPVI.
Dinkins’ attorney Marc Neff said that his client pleaded not guilty in court Tuesday, and that they have not yet been able to sit down and go through all of the charges together.
“He’s upset that he was charged with these offenses and he’s upset that he’s in jail,” Neff told ABC News. Dinkins is being held on $800,000 bail, an amount that “shocked” Dinkins, his attorney said.
Neff said that his client is, “very well-liked and well-respected” as a teacher and that his wife and three children are “devastated” that he is in jail.
Police say the Centennial School District has been fully cooperating with authorities.
“Our students’ safety and welfare are always our primary concern,” school superintendent Jennifer Cressman posted on the school’s website. “The Centennial School District is extremely concerned by the very serious allegations against High School Choral Director Mr. Tyrone Dinkins.”
Cressman added that counselors, psychologists and social workers are available for any students or staff members who might need them.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Michael Nedelman, CNN
Morgan Loew, CNN
Emanuella Grinberg and Kwegyirba Croffie, CNN
Matt McFarland, CNN