On Feb. 10 the St. Louis County Prosecutor's office completed its review of a Sperreng Middle School teacher arrested two months earlier for allegedly having sexual contact with a female student.
Based on its review of police evidence in the case, prosecutors dropped the matter citing a "lack of any credible evidence that any sexual contact had taken place," according to St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch.
Also in February, the accused teacher received a much-welcomed call from the Department of Family Services (DFS). The DFS, too, he was informed, had dropped its investigation.
"After investigations by the Division of Family Services and the St. Louis County Police, my client was eventually totally exonerated," said Richard Sindel, the teacher's attorney. "Absolutely nothing happened, nothing inappropriate went on."
The teacher has been back in his Sperreng Middle School classroom since early March. He said he may not have returned to Sperreng had it not been for the trust shown to him by administrators, teachers and students.
"Things have been more normal than I could have ever imagined," he said.
Both attorney and client said the ordeal was initiated by a student with a history of leveling false charges against teachers.
"Other school teachers would tell you that this student was not trustworthy at all," Sindel said. "There were a lot of situations where she had given teachers false information. She had made false claims of sexual assault in the past, and claims of others kinds of physical abuse in the past that did not check out."
Through the ordeal the teacher said his emotions ranged from fear to anger. Though his wife, children and other family members never doubted his innocence, and while he found comfort in knowing that he had the support of administrators, staff, teachers and students at his school, there was still reason for concern.
"One of my biggest fears, as explained to me by my lawyer, was that right or wrong doesn't always play into these things when you have a minor involved," he said. "It was an absolute nightmare. I feel shaky right now just having to talk about it."
Tenured with 15 years of teaching experience in the district, the teacher asked that his name not be revealed. While most in the school district community are aware of his identity, he fears that future employment outside of the district could be jeopardized should his name be known.
Called To The Principal's Office
In October 2008 Lindbergh School administrators learned that a student had accused a Sperreng Middle School teacher of inappropriate behavior.
The school district initiated an investigation into those claims, placing the teacher on paid suspension during the course of the month-long inquiry. Administrators concluded that there was no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the teacher, and his suspension ended.
The matter appeared to be closed, that is until police arrived at Sperreng Middle School on Tuesday, Dec. 9.
It was about noon that day when the teacher was told to report to the principal's office. Waiting for him were three St. Louis County Police officers, one of them the school's Student Resource Officer. The teacher was escorted from the building, handcuffed on the parking lot, and placed into the back of a patrol car.
At the time of the arrest, Lindbergh School District Superintendent Jim Simpson described the teacher as "beloved and well-respected." School officials expressed shock at the arrest.
The teacher was arrested on charges of second degree statutory sodomy and released later that day. As is often the case in these matters, formal charges from the Prosecutor's office come quickly on the heels of an arrest. But those charges never came. Instead, the police investigation continued for weeks after the initial arrest.
"I have kids, and they were dragged through this -- wondering why I was at the police station, why I wasn't at school. My wife and I talked to our kids and said 'Here's what's going on.' There was never a waver on the part of my family. We all came out of it fine."
Ten days after his arrest, and with the urging of his supportive wife, the teacher agreed to a police request for a full body search.
"It was done on my birthday. It was a horrible ordeal," said the teacher.
Knowing that the physical evidence would not match up to the allegations against him, the teacher expected a quick vindication.
"The thing that bummed me out the most was that we thought that we would get word before Christmas. Obviously, the holidays were coming up and it (the results of the search) may have sat on a desk for a while," he said.
St. Louis County Police turned the case over to the Prosecutor's office in mid-January. It wasn't until Feb. 10 that the Prosecutor's office released its findings. It would not charge the teacher due to a lack of any credible evidence. All records in the case have been expunged.
"The difficult part was waiting for a conclusion to all of this," said the teacher. "We sat around waiting all that time and there was nothing going on. How did this get this far with no merit?"
The teacher said he does not want to give the impression that he was a victim in all of this. He said he understands that claims by students of teacher misconduct must be taken seriously. He said more protections are needed for both students and the accused.
"A lot of good has come out of this," he said. "Our perspectives have changed. I use to worry about what windows to buy for the house or how the kids were going to do at the state meet. Then something like this smacks you. You're just walking down the street and it comes out of the blue. Your perspective on what's important in life really changes."