Los Angeles County prosecutors Wednesday dropped their case against a Miramonte Elementary School teacher who had been accused of molesting a former student.
Martin Springer, at the time a third-grade teacher at Miramonte, came to the attention of investigators as they questioned students about accusations Mark Berndt, another teacher on staff, conducted lewd classroom games with dozens of students.
The 2012 child abuse scandal at Miramonte Elementary in South Los Angeles became the biggest and costliest in the history of the Los Angeles Unified School District. The district also replaced all 85 Miramonte teachers for months to assure parents that their children were safe.
The case against Springer was dropped after the alleged victim's family told prosecutors the girl was too traumatized to testify at trial, "so we are unable to proceed at this time," said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the L.A. County district attorney's office.
The victim was 11 years old when she testified at Springer's preliminary hearing.
Only the outlines of the case against the former teacher were known, gleaned largely through the preliminary hearing and civil claims against the district filed by 13 alleged victims after his arrest.
There was one accuser in the criminal case — a girl who said Springer touched her leg on several occasions. He has pleaded not guilty to three felony counts of committing a lewd act. He had faced up to 12 years in prison.
In pretrial legal filings, prosecutors described the contact as "minimal" and wrote there was no evidence Springer threatened the girl. Nonetheless, they pointed out, "some pedophiles are capable of limiting their behavior as needed" and use "the most minimal touching to achieve sexual gratification."
Springer, now 51, was fired in the wake of the Miramonte scandal. The district then moved to strip him of his state teaching credential. It already has paid six children $470,000 each to settle their claims involving the teacher.
So far, L.A. Unified has paid $30 million in civil settlements in the wake of the accusations at Miramonte.
Springer's lawyer, John Tyre, said innocent behavior had been "blown out of proportion" because of the Berndt case.
"There is nothing to indicate that there was any sexual intent," he said during the preliminary hearing, suggesting Springer's accuser and her family may be motivated by financial gain.
He told The Times that Springer had been a teacher at the school for 26 years and had no complaints about his behavior until the frenzy over Berndt.
"It comes down to a witch hunt," he said.