Sexual abuse charges against former high school employee involve student with special needs
Eric Steven Popely | Bannock County Jail
POCATELLO – A local man accused of child sexual abuse has taught students with special needs at Highland High School, according to recently released court documents.
Eric Steven Popely, 47, was arrested on Wednesday after detectives from the Pocatello Police Department uncovered evidence the man groped a 15-year-old non-verbal student with special needs under her clothes.
Popely was the head of Highland High School’s developmental learning program and worked with the teenager, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Police were contacted by school administrators at 2:30 p.m. on January 21 and were told there was a witness, as well as video surveillance, of the alleged abuse. Officers were unable to interview Popely on the spot, as he had previously been placed on administrative leave and expelled from campus by administrators of the Pocatello / Chubbuck School District 25.
Surveillance video was viewed by officers, but parts of the incident were unclear, according to court documents. According to investigators, what could be seen from the video was Popely entering the classroom with the victim before closing the door at 11:13 a.m. School technicians arrived in classroom five. minutes later to find the door locked. Techs told police that when they entered the room, Popely was standing in the far corner of the classroom, with the victim across the room.
Popely directed the technicians to another room to hook up a television and returned to the room at 11:33 am, locking it again. He would later tell the police that he usually locks his door as part of the active shooter readiness.
During the incident, an adult witness told police she was on her way to the washroom when they looked through a door window and saw Popely appear to inappropriately touch the student. The witness described Popely touching the child under his clothes.
Due to the camera angle, the surveillance video does not directly show the alleged sexual act. Popely can be seen standing behind the victim, almost in contact with her with her arm “slightly forward”, the affidavit states. This shows him that he has reached the victim. The entire interaction lasted about 55 seconds.
PPD went into the room and stood where the witness, who was visible in the surveillance video, had been. The Shool administrators mimicked the movements described by the witness and the officer noted that the administrator’s arm was clearly visible through the classroom door window.
“I could see where his hand was without a doubt as he moved [it]An officer noted in the report.
A school administrator told PPD that when they went into the classroom to inform Popely that he was going to be put on administrative leave, he was found in a dark closet in the room, with another student. with special needs, also described as non-verbal.
The family of the 15-year-old girl have been contacted about the incident and they said they will be monitoring the girl for any emotional changes that may result from the abuse. The family refused a sexual assault exam, saying it would only further traumatize the girl.
In an interview with detectives, Highland administrators described Popely as appearing ‘defeated’ when brought to the office following the alleged incident. They said he did not defend himself and simply apologized, they told police.
Popely explained to detectives in a later interview that he wouldn’t normally have any students alone in his class, but had worked differently all day in question due to the delay of school buses. When asked directly if anything serious had happened with the student, Popely replied “yes”.
He first admitted to police that he accidentally brushed the victim’s breast. Reports then indicate that Popley became “withdrawn” and “shaken” and took long breaks and drank water, according to the affidavit. He then said he accidentally reached under the victim’s sweater, but readjusted when he realized what had happened.
When officers told him his claim did not match what was seen on surveillance, Popely admitted he grabbed the victim’s chest out of sexual frustration resulting from a recent romantic separation. He added that it was an “error in judgment”.
Popely told police this had not happened before, asking to take a polygraph exam to prove it was true.
He was arrested, charged and transferred to Bannock County Jail where he is being held on $ 70,000 bond.
Popely is due to hold a preliminary hearing on February 4.