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UPDATE: Charge against Valencia private school teacher dismissed

Prosecutors cite insufficient evidence to prosecute child annoying/molesting charge

Posted: April 16, 2014 10:29 a.m.
Updated: April 16, 2014 6:18 p.m.
Carl Astrera  Carl Astrera 
Carl Astrera 

More than 100 people, many sporting white shirts that read “Truth will prevail,” rallied behind a Santa Clarita Valley teacher after a judge dismissed a child molestation charge against him Wednesday.

Legacy Christian Academy teacher Carl Astrera broke down and cried at the show of support just minutes after a judge in Newhall Municipal Court dismissed a misdemeanor charge of annoying/molesting a child filed against him, said the teacher’s attorney, R.J. Manuelian.

“He was crying in front of 138 people, overwhelmed with joy,” Manuelian said. “I’ve never seen so much support shown for someone.”

Manuelian said the case filed last month against his 35-year-old client was nonexistent. Astrera, of Panorama City, has taught for years at Legacy Christian Academy, a private school on Dickason Drive in Valencia.

“If you had seen the police report you would say, ‘That’s it? That’s why you arrested him?’ There is not a single shred of evidence in this case,” he said.

On March 26, Astrera was arrested on suspicion of inappropriate contact with an 11-year-old student, investigators with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said.

Investigators said they began their investigation on Feb. 28 after receiving a report of an incident allegedly involving Astrera inappropriately contacting a boy enrolled at Legacy Christian Academy.

Sgt. Brian Hudson of the Sheriff’s Department Special Victims Bureau told reporters that detectives believed Astrera “conducted himself inappropriately” with one of Legacy’s students.

On Wednesday, Hudson was asked what the dismissal means to detectives.

“We’re not releasing any statement on this,” he said. “Everything has to come from the D.A.”

The Signal asked prosecutors at the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office why the case was dismissed.

“After further investigation we determined there was insufficient evidence to move forward with this matter and therefore moved to dismiss,” said Ricardo Santiago, spokesman for the D.A.’s office.

School response
An email received from Matt Millett, Legacy’s director of activities and spiritual life, and signed “Coach” constitutes the school’s official response, Legacy Principal Timothy Bourruel said. It reads:

“Dear Legacy Parents. As you may know by now, the District Attorney today dismissed the charges that had been filed against Carl Astrera. This brings to a conclusion a very difficult time for Mr. A, his family and friends and, indeed for the Legacy community.

“Although we understand that there are those who are angry that the charges were even brought, we urge all in our community to direct those feelings to God and pray that God will use this for our good and for His glory.

“Finally, many have inquired about Mr. A’s return. We will let the dust settle, give Mr. A some time to recover, and then have a dialogue with him about how to move forward.

“I appreciate the support and prayers of every Legacy family as we have navigated through this challenging time. Sincerely, Coach.”

News of the dismissal resonated with many of Astrera’s supporters on the steps of the courthouse on Valencia Boulevard on Wednesday.

“It was fantastic,” said supporter Benjamin Coussens.

“So many parents wanted to involved and help clear his name,” he said. “And there’s many more who want to vindicate him now.”

Laura Darlin-Bruemmer, a friend of Astrera’s, video-recorded the groundswell of support seen on the courthouse steps Wednesday.

“It was very emotional and exciting,” she told The Signal.

Weighing options
Astrera’s lawyer is urging him to take some time off as the legal team weighs its options.

A lot of questions have yet to be answered with regards to how the complaint was embraced by sheriff’s detectives and perpetuated by prosecutors who filed the charge.

“A lot of questions have to be asked,” Manuelian said. “Something happened to bring about the dismissal. Either there were fresh eyes who looked at the case or new information.”

“Right now we’re exploring all our legal options,” he said, naming civil action as one of those options.

“I want this to be a learning lesson for the public” — an illustration that individuals are innocent until proven guilty, the attorney said.

“This poor guy was put through the wringer for no reason.”
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt





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