Local News

Friday, Jan 18 2013 05:19 PM

School security officer's vigilance leads to key arrest

It was only a matter of hours after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December that conversation around school campus shifted from standardized testing to more security to keep kids safe at school.

As schools struggle to pay teachers, beefing up security adds a financial strain to many districts, but upgrading and adding safety procedures and personnel to protect students far outweighs the costs.

The Tehachapi Unified School District found that out last Thursday when one of their security officers Matt Sterk was instrumental in helping police apprehend 31-year-old Ernest Colquit Wallace IV of Tehachapi, who has been accused of harassing two female high school students on their way to school.

Wallace has been booked on misdemeanor charges of sexual battery and annoying a child under the age of 18.

"I'd like to take a moment to commend our Tehachapi Police Department, security officer Matt Sterk, and our School Resource officer Mike Palmateer for their immediate and professional response to a safety incident involving two of our students," District Superintendent Lisa Gilbert said. "I sincerely appreciate the efforts of all involved in addressing this concerning incident so well."

The chain of events that led to Wallace's arrest began when police received reports of two separate incidents that involved Wallace and the two girls around 9 a.m. on Jan. 17.

The first incident occurred at about 7:45 a.m., when Wallace followed a 16-year old girl, eventually stopping in the area of Snyder St. and Valley Blvd.

The second occurred just 20 minutes later in roughly the same area when an 18-year-old girl reported that Wallace who began speaking to her, approached her and walked all the way to the Tehachapi High School parking lot, where he allegedly grabbed the girl's buttock, then turned and walked away.

Both girls reported the incident to school officials who promptly notified police and sent home an automated phone message to all parents to inform them of the incident, as well as making announcements to students at the end of their day.

Later that day, shortly after school release, Sterk recognized Wallace from a police bulletin, and along with Palmateer and two Tehachapi Police officers took him into custody.

"This incident shows the way in which our community works together," Gilbert said. "All in the interest of keeping our students safe."

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