Hockenbury arrested for criminal sexual act

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

“We are shocked and dismayed,” Guilderland schools Superintendent Marie Wiles says at a press conference Wednesday afternoon, discussing the arrest of James C. Hockenbury for a criminal sexual act.

GUILDERLAND — A man that police say has worked in the childcare industry for the past 30 years was arrested Tuesday for a first-degree criminal sexual act, a felony, for an April 16 incident at the Westmere Elementary School playground. Police are concerned there may have been earlier offenses on children too young to report them.

James C. Hockenbury, 48, of Park Guilderland Apartments in Guilderland Center, was arrested by Guilderland Police who accused him of engaging in an oral sex act with a 3-year-old child, according to Guilderland Police who worked with detectives from the Albany Police Department.

Hockenbury was arraigned in front of Judge Denise Randall in Guilderland Town Court on Tuesday night and remanded to Albany County’s jail on $75,000 bail. Calls from The Enterprise to the home he shares with his wife were not answered on Wednesday.

Hockenbury, who had run a daycare service with his wife, Debbie, was babysitting for the 3-year-old, from an Albany family, on Saturday morning when the incident occurred, Guilderland Assistant Chief Curtis Cox said at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.

“He was babysitting for a family friend,” said Cox. Hockenbury had babysat for that family for several years, Cox said. But Cox did not know if it was paid work.

At the time of his arrest, Hockenbury had been employed with an Albany security services company, said Cox. He went through a long list of his earlier work, involving children: at the YMCA, at the University at Albany’s UKids Child Care Center, at Guilderland’s Maple Leaf Child Care, as a Guilderland town camp counselor, and as a monitor for three different Guilderland elementary schools — Pine Bush, Guilderland, and most recently Lynnwood.

Hockenbury was also “very active in the community,” said Cox. At the time of his arrest, he was an active member in both the Guilderland Center Fire Department and the Altamont Rescue Squad, Cox said; he was formerly active in the Fort Hunter Volunteer Fire Company and the Western Turnpike Rescue Squad. And, said Cox, he had also worked with the Faith Formation program in Guilderland.

Since the arrest was announced on Tuesday, Cox said on Wednesday afternoon, “We are receiving calls from people.” Police, he said, are “reviewing them.”

Cox called it “concerning” that a 3-year-old may be too young to convey to parents or other caregivers an episode of abuse. He went on, “We’re very concerned. Maybe something will come out of a family discussion.”

He said the Guilderland Police Department has a counselor available for consultation, free of charge, if parents want to broach the topic of sexual abuse with their children.


James C. Hockenbury


Hocksbury, Cox said, does not have a criminal record of child abuse. Asked if Hockenbury is maintaining his innocence, Cox said he couldn’t answer to “protect the integrity of the case.” He went on to say he was confident of a conviction. “I’m very, very confident based on my knowledge of the investigation,” said Cox.

Cox also said that Hockenbury’s electronic devices would be checked and surveillance tapes of the playground would be looked at as well.

Cox concluded, “We’re very, very concerned. We encourage people to reach out to us.”

Anyone with information regarding past incidents are urged to contact the Guilderland Police Department Investigations Unit at (518) 356-1501, ext. 1063.

View from the schools

“We are shocked and dismayed,” Guilderland Superintendent Marie Wiles said at the press conference and to The Enterprise earlier on Wednesday. “We take the safety of our children very seriously,” she said as four television cameras rolled.

Wiles told The Enterprise she had been notified of the arrest at 5 p.m. on Tuesday after staff that could dig through old employment records had gone home. On Wednesday, Hockenbury’s employment history at the district was pieced together. He had worked as a teacher’s aid and cafeteria monitor at Guilderland Elementary School from 1988 to 1994, and at Pine Bush Elementary School from 1994 to 2001.

He most recently worked as a cafeteria monitor at Lynnwood Elementary School from Sept. 8, 2015 to Nov. 13, 2015, resigning to take another job, Wiles said. The job of a cafeteria monitor involves such tasks as “helping a child open a milk carton, reminding kids to eat vegetables, telling rowdy kids to settle down, and cleaning tables,” said Wiles. “Monitors are an extra pair of eyes in loud and chaotic places,” she said.

“There is nothing in his file to suggest this would happen,” Wiles said.

Like all public-school employees, Hocksbury went through the required state and federal fingerprinting procedure, Wiles said. But, she surmised, “If you’re never caught, you’d never know.”

The Westmere school grounds do have surveillance cameras, Wiles said. “The police have asked us to look at the film. We’re cooperating 100 percent,” she said, adding, “There’s a lot of footage.”

School playgrounds throughout the district are “popular places,” Wiles said, attracting residents as well as people outside of the community

Asked if the district might do anything differently in light of the allegations, Wiles said, “All of our staff are mandated reporters of child abuse. We pay attention to this very much.” While all certified staff — teachers, teaching assistants, and administrators — take courses on child abuse, Wiles said, “We may have a conversation about additional training” that could include monitors and teacher’s aids.

Parents with questions or concerns have been advised to contact Wiles at [email protected] or by phone at (518) 456-6200. She had received “just a couple of phone calls and emails” about the incident, Wiles said on Wednesday. “I haven’t heard from buildings that students are upset,” she said.

Students on Wednesday were sent home with a letter and a sheet of “Tips for Talking to Children About Child Abuse.”

“We did research on appropriate things to say,” said Wiles.

“Many adults are uncomfortable about talking with children who have questions about child abuse or who, unfortunately, may be victims themselves,” the tip sheet says.

The sheet goes on to describe physical, emotional, and sexual abuse as well as neglect. “Sexual abuse,” it says, “is when an adult or someone older than a child touches the private parts of a child’s body or has a child touch the older person’s private parts. Private parts are the parts covered by bathing suits or underwear….If someone is abusing you, you may feel uncomfortable, scared, or confused.”

The sheet also stresses, “No matter what, abuse is never  your fault and you don’t deserve it. It’s normal to feel upset, angry, and confused when someone hurts you. But don’t blame yourself or worry that others will be angry with you.”

The sheet also says, “If you think that you are being abused, the bravest and most important thing you can do is tell someone you trust. Never keep it a secret….”  


Corrected April 19, 2016: Hockenbury was not a member of the Westmere Fire Department.

Updated April 19, 2016, to include statements from the Guilderland school district.

Updated April 20, 2016, to include statements by Superintendent Marie Wiles and Assistant Chief Curtis Cox after a Guilderland Police press conference.

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