ELKTON — A registered sex offender pleaded guilty Tuesday in a case where he was accused of surreptitiously taking photos of a young girl in the bathroom of a Walmart, and then trying to flee custody after being apprehended.
Prior to the start of his trial Tuesday, Dennis K. Tonna’s public defender, Jason Ricke, and Assistant State’s Attorney Zachary Payne negotiated a plea deal in which Tonna pleaded guilty to first-degree attempted escape, second-degree assault, resisting arrest and peeping tom, while charges of second-degree attempted escape, disorderly conduct and malicious destruction of property were dropped.
Visiting District Court Judge Douglas Everngam then sentenced Tonna, 57, of the 100 block of Inverness Drive in North East, to a total of 20 years in prison for the June episodes — the maximum penalty allowed for the worst of the misdemeanor crimes.
Specifically, Tonna received 10 years each for first-degree attempted escape and second-degree assault to run consecutively. He also received three years for resisting arrest and 30 days for peeping tom, which will run concurrently with the longer sentences.
Before handing down his sentences, the parents of the juvenile victims in the case made victim impact statements to the court, according to the Cecil County State’s Attorney’s Office.
After sentencing, Interim Cecil County State’s Attorney James Dellmyer said his office was “encouraged by the sentence handed down in this matter.”
“The defendant exploited children who cannot protect themselves, and he assaulted a law enforcement officer. Now, more than ever, it’s important to protect those who are most vulnerable and the police who protect us all,” Dellmyer said in a prepared statement.
The case began when Tfc. Adam Siemek of the Maryland State Police’s North East barrack responded to the nearby Walmart at 75 Northeast Plaza about 1:41 p.m. Saturday, June 15, for reports of a man who was following young girls around the store and believed to be taking photos of them, according charging documents.
The store’s manager reportedly told Siemek that a concerned mother had approached her about the man, who had long brown hair and was wearing a red T-shirt, black jeans and black Adidas sneakers, prompting her to call 911.
Two teenage girls had noticed a “creepy” man near the food aisle when they entered the store to shop and less than 30 minutes later another concerned shopper advised them that he had been following them, according to Siemek’s report. One of the girls told her mother, who was shopping with them, and she confronted the suspect. He reportedly denied the accusations and tried to leave the store, but not before management at the Walmart stopped him.
Siemek made contact with the suspect, who was identified as Tonna, and he appeared to be drunk, according to court records.
When asked what happened, Tonna replied, “I wasn’t taking any pictures of anyone, I was talking to a friend using Snapchat,” according to Siemek’s report.
After Tonna handed his phone to Siemek, the trooper quickly noticed photos of a young girl using the Walmart bathroom dated Friday, June 14, according to court records. Upon that discovery, Tonna was arrested and taken back to the North East barrack for processing.
Once at the barrack, Tonna allegedly tried to flee by attempting to exit a back door, Siemek reported. Tonna was apprehended, but not before ripping Siemek’s uniform and allegedly kicking another trooper trying to aid in the struggle.
After detaining Tonna, Siemek learned that a woman had filed a report Friday at the North East barrack about a man who had “peeped his head over the woman’s room stall” while her 15-year-old daughter was using the bathroom at Walmart, according to court records.
The mother provided a description of a suspect with long brown hair who was wearing black jeans and black Adidas sneakers. She also alerted Walmart management, but was unable to provide a description of the suspect’s face.
A description of her daughter’s clothing matched that of the photos seen on Tonna’s phone though, Siemek reported.
A search of the sex offender registry also revealed that Tonna is a Tier III offender, convicted in 2002 of child abuse.
In an interview with Tfc. John Wildman, of the Criminal Enforcement Division, Tonna admitted that he has a fetish involving women using the bathroom, according to court records. While he admitted to entering the Walmart bathroom on both days in question, he denied taking any photos and said entering the bathroom was “a mistake” and that he was “blacked out.”
A subsequent search of Tonna’s phone revealed more fetish pornography as well as at least two photos of a girl appearing to be as young as 12, which Tonna allegedly admitted appeared to be “too young,” according to court records.
Tonna was indicted on nine charges of child abuse and assault in 2002, and pleaded guilty to a single abuse count in a deal that dropped the remaining eight charges. He was sentenced to one year in jail, according to online court records.
In 2007, he was indicted on one count each of sex abuse of a minor and third-degree sex offense. Both charges were dropped before the start of the trial though, according to court records.