A former choir teacher at a Harlem charter school has been sentenced to 20 years to life in a state prison for sexually assaulting two young boys in his class.
Last month, 29-year-old Darnelle Watts was found guilty of one count of predatory sexual assault against a child and four counts of first-degree sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said in a press release announcing Watts’ sentencing on Wednesday that it took a jury just two hours to convict the teacher.
Watts worked as choir teacher and after-school aide at Promise Academy II, a charter elementary school in the Harlem section of Manhattan.
Prosecutors said during Watts’ trial in January that between September 2014 and May 2015, the 29-year-old repeatedly fondled a 10-year-old boy who was a student in his class. The attacks took place both on and off campus.
Watts was also convicted of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old student between March 2015 and June 2015.
According to court documents filed in the case and cited by the New York Daily News last year, when he was interviewed by police about the allegations, Watts claimed that he touched the penis of one of the boys ‘by accident’ while the two were at a movie theater.
The 29-year-old told detectives that he and the child were playing a ‘game’ where they would hit one another’s genitalia.
‘I did ask (Doe) to pull his penis and I pulled out my penis. I touched (Doe’s) penis and (Doe) touched my penis. But I didn’t let him finish me off,’ he said when questioned over the molestation.
Watts, who at one time had been part of the famed Boys’ Choir of Harlem, later described another encounter with the boy in the elementary school auditorium, which involved the teacher and the student exposing their genitals and touching one another.
He further confessed to letting the grade-schooler look at pornographic material on his phone, including a photo of Watts’ penis, which he said he had snapped to send to someone.
‘I’m not circumcised. I like girls,’ he told detectives.
Watts was fired from his job at the renowned charter school in October 2015 after the sexual abuse allegations against him first came to light.
The families of the two victims last year filed a civil lawsuit against him, Promise Academy II and the city, accusing officials of failing to remove the predatory teacher from the classroom sooner.
Attorney Rosemarie Arnold, who is representing the victims in the lawsuit, told the DailyMail.com in a brief phone interview on Wednesday that she finds the idea of Watts getting out of prison at some point in the future to be ‘unthinkable’ after what he had done to her clients.
District Attorney Vance said in Wednesday’s statement that there is cause for concern that there may be additional victims out there, given that Watts had been in constant contact with children.
According to the lawsuit, obtained by Daily Mail, one of the victims, whose initials are N.T., is a learning-disabled student who had attended the school from 2008 to 2015.
The other plaintiff, who goes by initials M.H., was a fifth-grader who had been enrolled at Promise Academy II from September 2014 to July 2015.
The complaint accuses Watts of touching and groping the boys, ‘wrestling’ with them ‘so he could feel their bodies underneath their clothes,’ exposing his penis to NT and forcing the child to watch ‘sexually explicit pornographic videos on his cell phone.’
The lawsuit alleges battery, assault, negligent, intentional and reckless emotional distress, along with negligent hiring, supervision and retention.