On paper, Nicholas M. Speller might seem like a model citizen: a married father of two who teaches gym at an East Boston elementary school and preaches at a Somerville church.
But that image was shattered Thursday in East Boston Municipal Court, where Speller, 31, was arraigned on charges of molesting four girls, while he was drunk, in the span of less than an hour at the Patrick J. Kennedy Elementary School.
The families of the girls “all stated that they do not feel safe at the school” with Speller present, Assistant Suffolk District Attorney Brian LeBlanc said during the teacher’s arraignment.
A not-guilty plea was entered for Speller on four counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14. He was held on $2,500 cash bail with conditions including that he stay away from the school and the alleged victims. School officials suspended him Wednesday.
Three of the girls are 10 and one is 9, court records show.
According to LeBlanc and legal filings, the alleged assaults occurred during gym class on the soccer area next to the school between 1:30 and 2:20 p.m.
LeBlanc said the girls told Kristen Goncalves, the school’s principal, that Speller “was drunk and had touched them inappropriately.”
The alleged misconduct was brazen, according to an arrest report.
One girl reported that Speller touched the area near her breasts and apologized before leaning all his body weight on her and whispering, “Come with me, I want to show you something,” the report said.
Another girl told police that Speller rubbed her neck and chest in a closet and tried to get her to lie down while “rubbing his genital area over his clothes,” according to the report.
The third girl claimed Speller laid down in the soccer field with his arms stretched out “like a star.” She tripped over his arms before he began rubbing her leg “from her calf to her buttocks,” the report said. She told the first girl that “Mr. Speller did something bad to me,” according to the filing.
A fourth girl told officers that Speller called her over to him on the field and motioned for her to kneel down. When she did, he allegedly began stroking “her upper thigh area near her crotch,” the report said.
Speller wore a suit in court and showed no emotion as LeBlanc recited the allegations. The prosecutor said Speller faces a mandatory minimum prison term of 10 years on each count if convicted.
Joe Serpa, an attorney for Speller, told the court the allegations were “vague.” He said there was no indication that any school or police officials corroborated the girls’ statements that Speller was intoxicated.
“There’s a bunch of stuff in these allegations that really doesn’t seem to make very much sense,” Serpa said. “Mr. Speller has every reason to believe that he can succeed at trial.”
While there’s no explicit reference in the report to school employees accusing Speller of being drunk, Goncalves told officers that he “appeared disoriented” and later put his head down on a desk, behavior she described as “wildly out of character for him.”
Police located Speller sleeping in his car next to the school around 4:30 p.m., and he told them he was dizzy and asked “what was going on several times because he didn’t know why officers were here,” the report said. He was taken into custody.
Speller’s wife, small children, parents, and pastor attended the arraignment Thursday. Only the reverend, Bishop Henry A. Moultrie II, spoke to reporters outside.
He said Speller is on his ministerial staff at Mission Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Somerville and insisted that his protege never drinks alcohol. Moultrie said he believes Speller is being falsely accused.
“He’s a fine young man,” Moultrie said. “He’s a powerful young preacher, well educated.”
Speller was placed on paid administrative leave Wednesday, according to Boston Public Schools officials. The school department is conducting its own investigation at Kennedy Elementary and providing services for students who might have been affected, said Dan O’Brien, a BPS spokesman.
“We have brought in a team of social workers and psychologists from the BPS Behavioral Health Services Department who specialize in various crises, including deaths of students or staff and incidents of abuse, trauma, and violence, including sexual assault,” O’Brien said in an e-mail.
Speller has worked in city schools since 2011, starting as a teacher’s aide at the former Elihu Greenwood Leadership Academy in Hyde Park, then working at Up Academy Dorchester and Up Academy Holland in various roles before coming to Kennedy Elementary in 2017, O’Brien said Thursday.
Speller’s next court date is scheduled for June 12.Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.