Accused YMCA molester faces life

Nicolas Lhermine

The case against a 20-year-old Mt. Madonna YMCA employee accused of molesting a 6-year-old girl in the organization’s childcare facility located at Paradise Valley Elementary School turned darker Tuesday.
The total victim count has climbed to four, but “this could turn into a case where we have disclosures that go on for 20 years. It’s just too early to tell at this point,” Deputy District Attorney Stuart Scott told the media Tuesday outside the South County Courthouse in Morgan Hill, following an arraignment for defendant Nicholas Lhermine, son of Jane Lhermine, the Mt. Madonna YMCA’s administrative services manager.
Authorities announced this week that two more female victims – 5- and 7-years-old – have come forward, resulting in additional charges filed against Lhermine by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.
Scott said Lhermine, a YMCA teacher’s aide and youth soccer coach, faces a possible life-in-prison sentence due to the nature of the first count – oral copulation on a child under the age of 10, which allegedly happened in the bathroom of the YMCA’s portable childcare facility on the elementary school campus.
“He can face a life charge on that count alone,” said Scott.”
Lhermine, who was arrested by Morgan Hill police July 12, is currently charged with four counts: oral copulation on a child younger than 10, lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 12 years old, possession of child pornography and production of child pornography. The DA’s office Tuesday tacked on additional charges, following a search warrant last week of the Lhermine family residence and additional interviews of victims and their parents. MHPD Capt. Shane Palsgrove said Lhermine has “thousands of photos” on his cell phone and laptop.
That includes photos of children – “some clothed, some not,” he confirmed.
“Hundreds of kids have come into his care and there is a strong possibility there are more victims out there – even victims that themselves, don’t know they have been sexually abused,” said Palsgrove.
There is also a 17-year-old victim, according to Palsgrove, who said “charges are yet to come” against Lhermine for alleged incidents related to the 7-year-old victim. All of the charges filed so far are for incidents related to the 5-, 6- and 17-year-olds, Palsgrove explained.
Lhermine’s mother was granted leave Tuesday “because we felt she would need this time,” according to YMCA Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Jordan. She also confirmed that no other employees have been placed on leave due to any policy violations related to the Lhermine charges, although some are having a “tough time emotionally” and will be granted time off if requested.
Tuesday afternoon in a packed courtroom, Lhermine – hands cuffed together in front of him, sat quietly throughout the proceedings, wearing the standard orange inmate shirt and pants. Unlike his previous court appearance July 17, where Lhermine broke down in tears, the defendant peered into the audience at times, conversed with his attorney and gave simple responses to the judge’s questions.
Lhermine did not enter a plea, remains in custody and is due back in court for his next appearance at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 17. There is also a protective order in place forbidding Lhermine to contact any of his alleged victims. He is on leave from employment at the YMCA, which as a practice does not immediately fire employees accused of wrongdoing until a full investigation is completed, Jordan said.
All of the acts Lhermine is accused of, with the exception of possessing inappropriate images of the 17-year-old, happened “during hours and under the guise of his duties as a counselor for YMCA camps,” Scott said. “If we have more evidence to believe that he has molested more children beyond a reasonable doubt, we will be filing each and every one of those in this case.”
Scott called the case “heartbreaking” and different from others he has prosecuted because the suspect wasn’t a relative of the victim and the incidents happened at “the types of camps I put my children into.”
Palsgrove said the 5-year-old, who was in the day care program and under the care of Lhermine, told authorities that Lhermine “took sexually explicit photographs of her.”
Detectives were able to recover those photographs that were “unmistakably unclothed images of the 5-year-old on his cell phone,” Palsgrove said.
The 7-year-old victim revealed she was molested one time by Lhermine at day care, according to Palsgrove, who says the MHPD has “corroborating statements from other children that were present during this molestation.” Those children later told their parents what they had seen and the parents then contacted investigators, Palsgrove said.
Jordan confirmed with police “all of the incidents named thus far have occurred within the past month.”
Child molesters: ‘quite often those people that we know and love’
Lhermine “grew up in YMCA programs,” according to Jordan, who did not have any interactions with the suspect but did converse with his mother. Jordan said she is unaware if Lhermine has any siblings, since he was the only one employed at the YMCA besides his mother. Jane has worked out of the Centennial Recreation Center “for at least the last three years.”
“It’s absolutely devastating and I think the most important thing this demonstrates is that child molesters are quite often those people that we know and love,” said Jordan. “In fact, more often than not, they are people that we trust.”
After starting as a youth worker at age 16 at the Mt. Madonna YMCA – a trusted and well-established nonprofit organization that offers a variety of services for young people – Lhermine was then cleared through the Department of Justice and the FBI at age 18 to remain on staff as a teacher’s aide and youth soccer coach.
“As far as his character, he received nothing but accolades from parents for the role he played in their children’s lives as a soccer coach … as well as a teacher’s aide in our licensed childcare programs,” said Jordan, using the words “tremendous” and “exemplary” to describe parents’ reviews of Lhermine.
Jordan did not disclose how many, if any, parents have removed their children from the YMCA summer program, but did state the YMCA would issue a full refund to families wanting to pull their children out of the program.
Lhermine had violated several YMCA policies that were in place to prevent staff from being alone with the children, and the nonprofit organization has hired its own third party investigator to find out “how this possibly could have happened,” Jordan said.
She stands by the YMCA’s current policies and procedures, calling them “very complete to prohibit this type of exposure” and prevent employees from being alone with children. These include a “cross referencing system” in which employees keep tabs on each other’s locations, and strict procedures on bathroom use. No protocol changes have been made so far, she added. The YMCA hired a third-party investigative team specializing in child abuse that has been at the childcare facility over the last two days. Jordan said they will give a full report next week.
Anyone with information about this incident, or who thinks they or their children may have been victimized by Lhermine can contact Morgan Hill Police Detective Burdick at (408) 779-2101 or the anonymous tip line at (408) 947-7867.