A Newfane Middle School music teacher was not in court Tuesday night to answer charges that he inappropriately touched two 12-year-old female pupils, but investigators say more charges, involving more girls, are likely.
Mark A. Matteson, 31, had been scheduled to appear in Town Court to answer six misdemeanor charges, but the case was adjourned for two months, and Matteson is now being represented by a new attorney, Barry Nelson.
Matteson is scheduled to return to court March 13.
While many people have expressed shock at the charges against the teacher, others have told police that he made them feel uncomfortable.
Matteson is married with three children, including a new baby, and lives on New Road in East Amherst. He has been teaching at Newfane for the last five years. He was charged Thursday by Niagara County sheriff's investigators with five counts of endangering the welfare of a child and one count of third-degree sexual abuse.
Chief Sheriff's Investigator Bruce Roth said this week that the current charges are based on statements from the 12-year-old girls after the department began an investigation last month.
Roth said about half a dozen girls, and some of their parents, talked about incidents stretching as far back as last spring.
"I definitely feel there will be more charges," Roth said.
The girls and parents who were interviewed talked of Matteson touching the middle school pupils in a suggestive way, Roth said. He said the charges involve touching someone without their consent for the purpose of sexual gratification.
"There was a pattern of similarity," Roth said. "It was not just rubbing a shoulder, but rubbing a back and touching a bra strap and feeling through. Not just touching a knee, but touching a thigh. It was very subtle, not overt."
Roth said the girls were saying, "This makes me feel uncomfortable" and "I didn't think this was right." As a result, Roth said, "we felt we had to lay these charges."
"He's not a maniac out there, and that's why he has been released on his own recognizance," Roth said, "but we believe him to be wrong and that he crossed the line.
". . . The reason we proceeded is because there was a pattern. This was not an isolated incident."
The investigator praised Newfane school officials. He said they have given the Sheriff's Office a great deal of cooperation and handled the situation quickly once concerns came to light in December.
School Superintendent Gary J. Pogorzelski sent a letter to parents on the day of the arrest, outlining the charges. He said Matteson was suspended from his duties with pay, pending the results of the investigation.
Pogorzelski said that this investigation has the potential to "overshadow their primary educational purpose" and that the district will strive to maintain a supportive school environment.
Roth said he and Investigator Joseph Taylor interviewed and reinterviewed girls and their parents, discussed the case at length and brought the matter to the district attorney before filing charges.
"You don't want to be cavalier," Roth said. "You have to be sure you have enough information to put a man's life, career and reputation on the line."
He said teachers in this day and age should be aware that it is "not a touchy-feely world anymore."
"It's a very gray area," Roth said. "Whether [Matteson] had crossed the line was discussed by [school officials], and they became uncomfortable as more kids were coming forward and came to us.
"If he is an evil person, [this pattern] was going to get worse. We want to make sure the kids are safe," Roth said.