Five more alleged victims accuse L.A. teacher of abuse
Five more alleged victims have contacted sheriff's investigators since they announced the arrest of a longtime Miramonte Elementary School teacher accused of abusing children in his classroom, authorities said.
The children's allegations must all be verified to determine whether any additional charges can be filed against Mark Berndt, 61, who is expected in court Wednesday for arraignment on 23 counts of lewd acts against children, said Los Angeles County Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore.
Berndt, who was being held in lieu of $2.3-million bail, regularly told his students that they were going to play a "tasting game," in which children were blindfolded and, in some cases, gagged with tape, authorities say. He used a blue plastic spoon to feed children a white substance that DNA tests later revealed to be his semen. The students were told to tell Berndt whether the substance tasted salty or sweet, authorities said. The father of one alleged victim also told The Times his son was photographed eating a cookie that appeared to also be laced with semen.
The alleged victims were boys and girls ages 7 to 10.
Prosecutors said they plan to seek to increase Berndt's bail. The bail schedule for his crime allows them to seek as much as $1 million per count -– which would total $23 million, according to Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.
Berndt was arrested Monday after a yearlong investigation. Authorities were tipped off to Berndt after a CVS photo technician in the South Bay noticed suspicious photos of blindfolded and gagged children.
Berndt was immediately removed from his classroom in January 2011 after Los Angeles Unified School District officials were notified of the allegations. He was fired at the next board meeting.
The acts that Berndt is charged with committing took place from 2005 to 2010, though detectives said they were still trying to determine how far back the alleged abuse occurred.
Parents were stunned by the revelations.
Kimberly Kirklin, 32, has six children, including three daughters who are still students at Miramonte. She said she quizzed each of them immediately after learning of Berndt's arrest Tuesday morning and felt secure that they had never been subjected to any lewd activity.
Kirklin said her daughters refused to go to school Tuesday. She said she would attempt to enroll her children in another school.
-- Richard Winton
Photo: Mark Berndt Credit: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department