Teacher abused students during class, detective says
An elementary school teacher accused of gagging and blindfolding students allegedly did so in his classroom during school hours, according to a detective on the case.
“He disguised it as a game,” said sheriff’s Sgt. Dan Scott of the special victims unit. “This occurred in his regular classroom with his students,” Scott said. “It wasn’t done in secret. The only secret was what the game was really about.”
Scott said the evidence gathered so far shows 23 students were subjected to lewd acts.
"We know he did this between 2008 and 2010 but it is highly likely he didn't just start it then and that is why we are asking for the public's help," Scott said.
Investigators recovered photos from the film processing store and Mark Berndt's home that allegedly showed the students bound and blindfolded and some with large Madagascar cockroaches crawling on them inside the school setting, Scott said. Scott said girls were allegedly photographed with a blue spoon holding a white substance near their mouths. Investigators said they believe that substance was Berndt's semen and that he had the girls consume it.
Investigators said they have recovered more than 400 images, and so far 10 children in the photos recovered have not been identified. More than 80 children and school staff have been interviewed. Miramonte Elementary is in the Florence Firestone unincorporated area of Los Angeles County and is within the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy offered a swift condemnation Tuesday of the teacher, who is in jail on $2.3-million bail and could not be reached for comment.
"I find it disgusting, I find it reprehensible," Deasy said. "I hope this man spends the rest of his life in prison."
It is "despicable," Deasy said, "when you are entrusted with the lives of our youth, and you violate that."
Deasy said the school district was notified of the allegations on Jan. 7, 2011, and Berndt was removed from the classroom the same day. He was terminated by the district at its next meeting.
Martin Sandoval, who has been the principal at Miramonte for about a year, added: “This is an unfortunate incident that has occurred. I’d like to express my deepest sympathies to the families.”
Sandoval’s description of Berndt: “He was a classroom teacher who taught. He did his work.”
-- Richard Winton, Rick Rojas, Paloma Esquivel and Jeff Gottlieb
Photo: Mark Berndt. Credit: L.A. County Sheriff's Department