SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – The Salt Lake City School Board held a press conference to address allegegations against a board member Thursday afternoon.
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In a prepared statement, the board said they “condemn” the actions of board member Joél-Léhi Organista, who was arrested on 8 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor Wednesday.
“To engage in any such conduct or to exploit or endanger any child is indefensible,” board president Melissa Ford said in the statement.
Ford added that while the board does not have the power to remove Organista from the school board, if Organista does not resign from his position, the board can vote to censure Organista from the board.
According to information from police reports, Organista has admitted to downloading and viewing child pornography. Additionally, during a search of his electronic devices, arresting officers located a Snapchat on Organista’s iPhone that showed explicit conversations with children identified between the ages of 12-17.
The probable cause statement says that in the Snapchat conversations, Organista would ask the children for sexual photographs and to commit sexual acts on video chats. Saved images on the Snapchat also showed clear examples of child pornography, according to the statement.
At this time, the school board says they could not verify if any children in the district had been victimized by Organista.
The police report continued with officers noting “Organista has access to young children in his current position of trust involving grades K-12. Joel has shown that, through electronic means, that he frequently meets children online, solicits nude photographs from them, and has private online video conversations with them.:
School board leaders have asked Organista to resign from his position with the school board immediately, noting that his admissions in the police report were “enough” to prompt their decision despite the fact that he has yet to appear in court.
“This is not a gray area,” Ford stated.
In accordance with school board policy, Ford says Organista will no longer be allowed on Salt Lake City School District properties or be allowed to attend any Salt Lake City School District sponsored events including graduation ceremonies.
“I don’t know where to start.” said board member Mohamed Bayd, fighting off tears during the press conference.
“As a parent, as a new elected board member, my heart is shattered to pieces,” Bayd added.
According to district spokesperson Yandary Chatwin, Organista has attended multiple school functions in the past but in the presence of other board members.
However, Chatwin says his ability to attend school functions over the last year would have been limited due to the pandemic.
Organista began his term with the school board in January.