After discovering via news reports last Thursday, June 13, that Columbia High School teacher Michael A. Morrill 55, had been arrested on charges of third-degree possession of child pornography, CHS families were upset.
News that no students were involved helped to qualm fears, but parents soon realized through social media that Morrill had returned to the school after his arrest on June 6 and was not removed from the school until one week later — June 13 — when the South Orange-Maplewood School District was informed of his arrest.
Why the delay?
Mark Spivey, Director of Communications for the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and Investigations Supervisor John Esmerado answered that question today in a phone interview with VillageGreenNJ.com.
Esmerado said that UCPO had executed both a summons for arrest and a search warrant on June 6. He said that the UCPO had been notified through a monitoring program that Morrill had uploaded or was in possession of sexually exploitative images of a minor.
“We investigate based on a digital fingerprint,” said Esmerado. “Based on that we get a search warrant – that was on the 6th.”
Esmerado noted that Morrill had 25 devices — far beyond the usual 1-4 devices that suspects possess on average. “We had to scan all those devices to make sure there was no tie to the school and that contacting the school would not compromise the investigation,” said Esmerado.
“Any release of that would taint our investigation if he was exchanging [information] with students or taking images of students in a sexually exploitative manner.”
Esmerado noted that Morrill had taken class photos to remember students’ names, but said that that activity is not criminal, nor were the images exploitative.
In addition, Morrill was not required to spend time in jail or post bail based on the New Jersey Criminal Justice Reform Act that went into effect on January 1, 2017.
Basically, the charges against Morrill — third-degree possession of child pornography — did not qualify to put him in jail. Morrill would only face prison time pending resolution of the offense after a trial. According to the UCPO release, “Convictions on charges of this nature are commonly punishable by 3 to 5 years in state prison.” It should also be noted, as stated by the UPCO: “These criminal charges are mere accusations. Each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.”
Morrill waived his first court date which was scheduled for June 19; he should have another court date in about six weeks, said Spivey.
Spivey noted that the UCPO investigation to date has not resulted in additional criminal charges. Esmerado added, however, that the investigation is not yet complete. Although investigators quickly did a “first pass” of Morrill’s 25 devices, they are now combing through them with additional digital tools in order to do a more “precise examination.”