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Middle school resource officer sexually assaulted girl in locker room, police say

Costas Alestas.jpg
Bethlehem Police Department
Former Bethlehem police officer Costas Alestas, 43, of Palmer Township, was committed to Northampton County Prison in lieu of $500,000 bail on May 15, 2024.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - A school resource officer who also works as a soccer coach committed sex acts with a 14-year-old student at East Hills Middle School, authorities said.

Officer Costas Alestas, 43, of Palmer Township, was arraigned on multiple sex crimes Wednesday before District Judge Nicholas Englesson in Bethlehem.

Alestas intends to plead not guilty, according to his attorney. He is being held in lieu of $500,000 bail at Northampton County Prison.

During a 2 p.m. news conference at Bethlehem City Hall, Police Chief Michelle Kott said Alestas was fired following an internal investigation. He was East Hills' school resource officer for six years and had an exemplary record, she said.

"The Bethlehem Police Department takes allegations of professional conduct and public trust violations seriously. Any behavior that undermines public trust or violates the law will be swiftly and decisively addressed."
Michelle Kott, Bethlehem police chief

Kott said the allegations and Alestas' alleged actions should not be a stain on the entire police department.

"The Bethlehem Police Department takes allegations of professional conduct and public trust violations seriously," Kott said. "Any behavior that undermines public trust or violates the law will be swiftly and decisively addressed."

Details of allegations

Alestas's attorney, George Nassif, said his client "enjoys the presumption of innocence" and asked for privacy for his family.

Police said they were notified May 1 by Bethlehem Area School District personnel of allegations of a relationship between a middle school student and Alestas, who also coached the East Hills Middle School co-ed soccer team.

Police said Alestas committed sex acts with the girl in the boys’ locker room during a school dance while he was working and in uniform.

He also allegedly took an “upskirt type video” of an 11-year-old on the same date.

Police said Alestas later committed other acts in his Jeep with the 14-year-old victim in the parking lot of Green Pond Country Club in Bethlehem Township, on April 11; and in his Nissan at the William Penn Park and Ride in the township.

An analysis of Alestas’ phone showed about 4,980 messages exchanged with the 14-year-old, and 49 phone calls, since March 26, according to a police affidavit.

They would have secret meetings and conversations in Alestas’ school office in which Alestas kissed and touched her with her clothes on, according to the affidavit. Police said that evolved into the child undressing in the office and Alestas viewing her naked body.

Other cases?

Asked if police knew of any other victims, Kott replied: "It’s an active investigation. We want people who have information to come forward. If there are additional victims, yes, we want them to come forward."

Northampton County District Attorney Stephen Baratta suggested during the news conference that more misconduct could come to light.

“We also learned that there may have been other children who were contacted by these defendants,” said Baratta, referring to the Alestas case and last month's arrest of a school resource officer at Easton Area High School. “Even more concerning is that these schools may have had complaints about prior activities and concerns that were not presented for investigation and no appropriate preventive action was taken.”

Asked by reporters if he was suggesting other complaints had gone uninvestigated, Baratta said his office has received “some information that there may have been other concerning events,” and an investigation is continuing, though no “definitive” evidence of further wrongdoing has so far emerged.

“I have no reason to believe that anyone in the school district was involved in any criminal activity at all,” he said. “We have not received any reports about other criminal events.”

“Anytime you have something like this you’re always going to have 20-20 hindsight,” said Kott, as parents, students and others reevaluate past experiences in a new light. “We’re going to take all of that seriously because it's our job.”

A model officer

Baratta went on to suggest that schools and police departments bar school resource officers from meeting one-on-one with students. He also speculated that Alestas has a personality disorder, and suggested that better pre-employment screening would have kept him from working at East Hills.

Kott said there was “no indication” Alestas was anything other than a model officer, and that no screening system can keep out 100% of bad actors.

“I don't believe that there is an answer out there on how to prevent this definitively — how to prevent this from occurring again,” said Kott. “We just have to work hard as we're doing to ensure that we put the proper people in place.”

Prior to the 14-year-old confiding in a school guidance counselor, Kott said, there was nothing to indicate a problem with Alestas, who joined the force in 2007.

"He was well-liked at the school," the chief said. "He had received commendations of merit. This comes as an absolute shock and surprise."

Schools Superintendent Jack Silva echoed that and rejected suggestions that anyone at East Hills knew of Alestas' alleged behavior.

"This was a shock to the school community," he said. "He won awards for what he accomplished as a school resource officer. There are faculty members in shock related to this. Officer Alestas was often cited as an example of what a good school resource officer does. This was a claim that really threw us for a loop.

"To say that ... everybody knew that Officer Alestas was a bad actor, that’s not true at all. He was highly regarded through and through at East Hills Middle School."

Charges and bail conditions

Alestas is charged with statutory sexual assault, sexual contact with a student, aggravated indecent assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with someone under 16, criminal use of a communication facility and invasion of privacy.

Police said upon receiving the information May 1, Alestas was ordered to leave the middle school and report to Bethlehem police headquarters.

He was placed on administrative leave and turned over his iPhone to investigators, they said. Investigators interviewed the 14-year-old victim on May 2.

During Wednesday's arraignment, District Judge Englesson called the allegations "rather egregious" and said the bail amount was warranted because Alestas is a threat to public safety.

Under the terms of his bail, Alestas — a father of two — is not allowed to enter a school or have unsupervised contact with minors.

He was shackled at the ankles and wrists during his appearance in district court.

'Looking out for each other'

In a statement released Wednesday, Bethlehem Mayor J. William Reynolds wrote that Alestas's alleged behavior "is abhorrent and not consistent with the honesty and service our police officers have displayed for decades... violations of public trust will never be tolerated."

As for Baratta's suggestions school districts reevaluate the roles and policies regarding school resource officers, BASD's Silva said:

"Of course we'd be open to that. We have a good relationship with the Bethlehem Police Department. We teach respect for police officers. We try to show our common approach for good citizenship, emphasis on community, looking out for each other.

"Officer Alestas up until these charges was sort of an example of what that would look like for school resource officers. To say that we should have one eye on the police all the time is not something in the traditions of the Bethlehem Area School District or the Bethlehem Police Department.

A response to the news conference was posted on the school district website.