February 07, 2012
LA school reeling from arrest of 2nd teacher
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A bizarre case at an inner–city elementary school where a teacher was charged with taking bondage–style photographs of children has expanded with the arrest of a second teacher suspected of fondling two girls in his classroom.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Capt. Mike Parker said Martin B. Springer, 49, was arrested Friday. The announcement sent further shock waves through the campus already reeling from the arrest of teacher Mark Berndt who's charged with committing lewd acts on 23 children.
Springer's arrest came four days allegations surfaced against Berndt, but authorities said there was no known connection between the two cases. Springer was being held on $2 million bail.
The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that Berndt and Springer knew each other. School newsletters show that they took their classes on at least two joint field trips over the last decade, the Times said.
The case has shocked the nation and thrown a chill into its second–largest school district, with 650,000 students across hundreds of campuses.
Parker said the victims in the second case were about 7 and 8 years old and were fondled once each in a classroom at Miramonte Elementary School during the past three years.
Detectives interviewed Springer and the alleged victims on Thursday and had him under surveillance. He was arrested Friday as he exited a school district building in South Los Angeles, Parker said.
Detectives anticipate that more victims might come forward, he said.
A phone message left at Springer's home was not immediately returned.
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy said the district plans to fire Springer next week.
"We are prepared to fire him next week and we'll do that at the next board meeting for inappropriate conduct and inappropriately touching students," the superintendent told KTTV.
In a related development, a lawyer filed a claim against the district stating that he intended to file a lawsuit alleging an unidentified girl ate a sugar cookie laced with Berndt's semen.
Earlier this week, Berndt, who worked at the school for 32 years, was charged with committing lewd acts on 23 children, ages 6 to 10, between 2005 and 2010. He remains jailed on $23 million bail and could face life in prison if convicted.
Lawyer Raymond Boucher, whose Beverly Hills firm specializes in sexual abuse lawsuits against school districts, religious institutions and hospitals, said the legal claim of behalf of "Jane Doe 1" alleges the district did not take adequate steps to prevent Berndt from repeatedly abusing children after officials received complaints about him.
After news broke early Friday about Springer being removed from the classroom, several parents took their children out of the school.
Ida Santana said her sister called her and told her to pick up her nephew.
"It's hard to leave our kids here," Santana said. "We can't trust the teachers no more. Now there's another teacher."
Santana said the family is unsure where the boy will be going to school from now on.
A neighbor told the Times Springer lives alone in the Alhambra home he grew up in. He moved back into the house after his mother died.
"I've never seen him with children ... he is always by himself, " Gabriel Urrutia, 40, told the newspaper. "I can't believe he was arrested."
The development involving the second teacher was made public a day after authorities acknowledged that 18 years ago, a 10–year–old girl claimed Berndt tried to fondle her.
Prosecutors declined to file to charges against Berndt in the 1993 report, saying they didn't have enough evidence. Berndt, who denied the allegation at the time, was never arrested.
The details of that case and other claims by two former students about strange behavior by Berndt surfaced just three days after his arrest.
The allegations raised further questions about why he wasn't disciplined by school officials, who have been lambasted by some parents for waiting a year to reveal that Berndt was suspected of blindfolding children and feeding them his own semen in his classroom in what children were allegedly told was a tasting game.
School officials and investigators said proper procedures were followed to investigate and build a case against the teacher.
The investigation of Berndt began in the fall of 2010 when a film processor became suspicious about the photographs and turned them over to investigators who notified the school district.
Berndt was immediately removed from classwork in January. The Board of Education voted to fire him in a closed session, which he challenged, before resigning.
Associated Press (News - Alert) writers Christopher Weber, Christina Hoag, Greg Risling and Raquel Maria Dillon contributed to this report.