Accused teacher gave alleged victim presents, pictures
Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt gave presents to one of his alleged victims, visited her home and even gave the children photos of them blindfolded and gagged – the same type of pictures that eventually led to his arrest, attorneys for an alleged victim said.
Attorneys for the girl, who is now 9, filed a $15-million claim against the Los Angeles Unified School District on Monday alleging negligence and violations of the girl's civil rights because the district ignored reports in 1991, 1994 and 2008 about Berndt's conduct. Berndt was arrested last week and charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct.
Attorney Ricardo Antonio Perez said the teacher spoon-fed the girl a white liquid substance authorities now believe to be semen. He said the teacher also fed the girl, who was 8 at the time, semen-laced cookies as part of an unsuspecting game between September and December 2010.
Perez said the teacher visited the girl when school was out of session.
"He gave her bags of candy and something with an inscription that we don't want to reveal at this moment," Perez said.
"This teacher groomed his students to be victims. … He came to this girl's home in the holidays and gave her gifts," said Gordon Phillips, who is also representing the girl and her family. "That's something no teacher should be doing."
The district's failed oversight allowed the girl to become of the 23 alleged victims named in charges filed by the district attorney's office, said Phillips and Perez, who have sued L.A. Unified in the past.
Perez said he knows of previous complaints against Berndt in 1991 and 1994 "and still he was at the school," Perez said. "There was complete failure of the system."
He alleged that Berndt committed all these acts in plain sight. At the end of the year, he even "pinned the photos to a cork board" for the kids to take home, Perez said. "It was like he was daring someone to catch them," he said.
The girl's parents never suspected anything, he said.
Perez said the girl was interviewed last year by a detective without her parents present. They only recently learned of the investigation when an unnamed detective called, told them about the alleged semen and urged them to take their daughter for medical testing.
"Why did they wait so long to tell the families with the potential for diseases? Perez said. "They should have alerted them as soon as they knew."
Sheriff's officials said DNA testing on evidence was not completed until July and they did not connect it to the teacher until November. They did not publicize the investigation because they feared it might damage witness credibility.
-- Richard Winton
Photo: A mother and child walk past Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies in front of Miramonte Elementary. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times