SOUTH LOS ANGELES, Calif.–A second teacher at Miramonte Elementary School near South Los Angeles was arrested today on suspicion of lewd conduct with two female students, just days after news broke about a former third-grade teacher who allegedly took photos of blindfolded and gagged children with spoons of semen held to their faces.
Martin Bernard Springer, 49, of Alhambra, was arrested around 10 a.m. when he came out of a school district building at 107th Street and Western Avenue, according to sheriff’s Capt. Mike Parker.
Parker said Springer was booked on suspicion of lewd acts upon a child and was being held in lieu of $2 million bail. The allegations involve two girls who were about 7 years old, and the alleged abuse took place within the past three years, Parker said.
Springer’s arrest was the result of tips received Thursday from the public — which the Sheriff’s Department solicited following Monday’s arrest of 30-year Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Henry Berndt.
“Since Wednesday morning, sheriff’s investigators interviewed several people, including suspect Springer,” Parker said. “Meanwhile, suspect Springer was suspended and removed from the classroom by Los Angeles Unified School District officials. Suspect Springer has been under surveillance by sheriff’s detectives since yesterday.”
LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy confirmed earlier that a teacher had been removed from classes Thursday morning after he received information about “possible inappropriate behavior.” Deasy said he will ask the school board on Tuesday to fire Springer.
“As an educator and a father, I’m appalled and sickened by the allegations against this teacher,” Deasy said. “The district is working closely with the entire Miramonte community to deal with the terrible trauma that has arisen as the result of the arrest of Mark Berndt earlier this week and today’s arrest of Martin Springer.”
News of Springer’s arrest sent further shock waves through the campus of Miramonte Elementary School.
Parents were already reeling from the arrest of Berndt, who made his first court appearance Wednesday on charges that he abused 23 children between 2005 and 2011. He was ordered to return to the Metropolitan Branch Courthouse for arraignment Feb. 21. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Marcelita V. Haynes ordered Berndt to be held in lieu of $23 million bail — $1 million for every alleged victim.
Berndt was investigated for alleged inappropriate touching of a child in 1994, but charges were never filed, Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said Thursday.
“The case was presented to the District Attorney’s Office, and they declined to file charges,” he said.
District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said Thursday the sheriff’s investigation of Berndt involved a September 1993 incident, and it was turned over to prosecutors in February 1994.
“After careful evaluation, it was determined that the evidence was insufficient to prove a crime occurred,” Gibbons said. “All district attorneys in California follow uniform standards in filing criminal cases. A prosecutor cannot ethically file criminal charges if the evidence fails to meet the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
News of the arrest of a second teacher further aggravated already-upset parents fearing for the safety of their children at Miramonte Elementary School.
“I’m about ready to pull my child out of the school, ’cause I don’t know, there’s just, there’s too much going on at this school right here right now, I don’t know, so it’s a lot of think about,” parent Latanya Morris told reporters outside the school.
“We can’t trust no teacher here no more so we’re just going to take our kids home,” parent Aida Santiago told ABC7.
Another parent, Gloria Polanco, told Channel 7, “The district needs to put more people here to supervise. Our children are here. We want the district to (assure) us the protection, the safety of our kids. We rely on schools.”
Deasy said he understood parents’ concerns, but tried to ease their fears.
“Though this has been an extremely difficult week for the entire LAUSD community, we must never lose sight of the fact that the great majority of the teachers in this district are caring, nurturing and understanding toward their students.”
Berndt was arrested Monday at his Torrance home. The charges involve 23 children 7-10 years old, according to the District Attorney’s Office. The investigation into Berndt began when a photo processor went to sheriff’s officials with pictures Berndt allegedly took of the blindfolded and gagged students.
Some photos showed blindfolded students with a roach on their faces, or with plastic blue spoons or cookies containing a clear liquid held to their faces. Sheriff’s officials said DNA tests concluded that Berndt’s “bodily fluid” had been on the spoon.
Anyone knowing the identity of other possible victims was urged to call the sheriff’s Special Victims Bureau at (877) 710-5273; or Crime Stoppers, (800) 222-TIPS.
If convicted, Berndt could face “multiple years to life” in prison, Gibbons said.
Parker said the investigation into Springer’s actions was continuing, but sheriff’s officials expected to present their case to the District Attorney’s Office for consideration of charges by Tuesday.
“As you can imagine, with information being provided to us just yesterday morning, that this is a substantial amount of information we’re able to give to you now, because that is what the public deserves and the sheriff wants to make sure that they have this information,” Parker said.