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Teacher charged in serial molestations surrenders after standoff with Sacramento County deputies

Rosalio Ahumada, Esther Sun and Jennah Pendleton, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in News & Features

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A former school teacher accused of sexually abusing students holed up with a gun for four hours Friday inside a Sacramento County home before being taken into custody, after he failed to appear in court that morning for a hearing in his criminal case, sheriff’s officials said.

Steven Richard Kester, 78, was inside the home on the border of Orangevale and Fair Oaks.

About 1:15 p.m. Friday, Kester was taken into custody, Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Amar Gandhi said.

Authorities had surrounded the home and evacuated nearby residents as they worked to get Kester to surrender.

Kester was initially arrested on sexual abuse charges three years ago. He’s been free on bail as he awaited prosecution in Sacramento Superior Court. He was scheduled to appear in court Friday morning for a hearing to schedule his trial and to give attorneys a chance to discuss a potential plea deal in the criminal case.

Gandhi said Kester failed to show up for the 8:30 a.m. court hearing, so his attorney asked deputies to check on him. The Sheriff’s Office spokesman said deputies arrived at the home about 9:15 a.m. and found Kester, who put a gun to his head, started stabbing himself with a knife and went back inside the home.

Deputies heard a single gunshot inside the home after 11 a.m., and they have not been able to communicate with Kester since, Gandhi said. It did not appear to deputies that the gunshot was directed outside the home.

The sheriff’s SWAT team had the home surrounded, and Gandhi said they were using aerial drones and other assets to try to look inside to check on Kester. Gandhi said that, at some point, the deputies will have to enter the home if they can’t reach him.

“Ultimately, we want a peaceful surrender,” Gandhi told reporters about noon. “They’ve been trying to establish communication the whole time, they’ve been unsuccessful so far.”

He said deputies evacuated nearby homes strictly as a precaution as they would do with any reports of an armed person refusing to surrender. There was no indication Kester intended to harm anyone else, according to deputies.

About 12:30 p.m., sheriff’s officials were telling Kester — via a loud speaker — that they could see him in the front living room. They told him to come out and surrender with his hands up or answer his cellphone, so they could speak with him.

Gandhi said sheriff’s officials fired less-lethal rounds to burst through windows at the home, so aerial drones could fly in and provide authorities video.

About 45 minutes later, Kester was taken into custody. The extent of his injuries wasn’t immediately clear.

Jay Dyer, Kester’s defense attorney, had asked deputies to check on his client after he didn’t appear in court.

“He is not present, he is out of custody,” Dyer told Judge Satnam S. Rattu on Friday morning before prosecutors asked for a bench warrant for Kester’s arrest.

“I spoke with him last night. I fully expected him here today,” Dyer told the judge. “He is elderly. He does have some health conditions. ... My primary concern is that he is OK that his health is all right. He has faithfully attended court, up until now. I understand, your honor, to be in a position to issue a warrant, but I’d ask the court to hold the warrant.


“Mr. Kester is not a danger to anybody.”

Dyer said in court that he had tried to reach out to Kester before Friday morning’s hearing but did “not receive any replies.”

“My understanding is that, that law enforcement at this point is in contact with him to ensure that he’s all right,” Dyer said.

“It’s just not like him,” Dyer said. “The fact that law enforcement had to do a welfare check to me that bears that out. I don’t know what’s going on your honor.”

Rattu issued a no-bail bench warrant.

Kester was a full-time teacher at Folsom Cordova Unified School District since 1976, retiring in May 2012. He became a part of the district’s substitute teacher pool a few months later.

The former school teacher was arrested in June 2021 on charges of committing lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14, according to the Sheriff’s Office, which investigated the allegations against Kester in collaboration with the FBI.

“The FBI contacted us in May (2021) to alert us of an investigation involving Kester,” the school district wrote in a statement at the time of his arrest. “We immediately severed ties and removed Kester from the sub list and all involvement with our schools.”

The school district has said Kester’s employee file showed no arrest reports or disciplinary actions. Sacramento Superior Court records show no previous criminal history for Kester in Sacramento County.

In a separate civil lawsuit, four former Folsom Cordova Unified students are suing Kester, alleging grooming and acts of sexual abuse while they were his students. They’re also suing the school district, which they say acted negligently and failed to protect its students from serial molestation taking place over the course of several decades.

The plaintiffs allege serial molestation beginning in the 1990s with the most recent case of abuse taking place in 2021 at Cordova Meadows Elementary School.

The four litigants all allege experiencing abuse in different time periods and are 11 to 39 years old. The mother of the 11-year-old is suing on behalf of her daughter, who, according to the complaint, was abused from 2017 through 2021 when she was 5-9 years old.

The child, according to the civil lawsuit, reported to her family that Kester had been abusing her. She disclosed this information following an incident when he held her in a Cordova Meadows Elementary bathroom and molested her for several hours, the complaint states. This led to Kester’s eventual arrest in 2021.

The other litigants said they experienced abuse at varying times between 1998 and 2008 at Cordova High School and Folsom Middle School. The lawsuit alleges that Kester was known as “Kester the molester” throughout the Cordova High student body because of his “pervasive and inappropriate touching of the female students” and also that he was known to stand outside the girls’ locker room every day.

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