Accused teacher investigated in 1994 for allegedly fondling girl
Mark Berndt, 61, was investigated for alleged lewd acts on a child in January 1994 after officials at Miramonte Elementary School reported "an attempted fondling," Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Dan Scott said.
A girl, who was 10 or 11 years old at the time, said Berndt attempted to fondle her over her clothing near her genital area, Scott said. The allegation was investigated by a sheriff's detective and presented to the district attorney's office, which rejected the case, Scott said.
The district attorney's office declined to comment, saying it was prohibited by law from discussing cases more than 60 days old in which charges were not filed.
Scott said he discovered the case Wednesday evening while reviewing records.
L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy confirmed that he, too, had learned of an episode of alleged inappropriate behavior by Berndt “sometime in the 1990s.”
“I don’t have any records in the district of it,” he said. “It’s in the sheriff’s office.”
Deasy has assembled an internal investigative team to examine Berndt’s case and determine if there is a record of past incidents or suspicions about Berndt. So far, the district team has turned up no such internal records, he said.
More details are starting to emerge about Berndt, who was arrested Monday and taught at Miramonte Elementary School in South L.A. for three decades. He is accused of blindfolding children as part of a "tasting game" and spoon-feeding them his semen. In some cases, the children were gagged, sheriff's officials said, and sometimes he placed giant Madagascar cockroaches on their faces.
Since Berndt's arrest Monday other students have come forward, alleging odd behavior by the teacher.
And two women said Wednesday that school officials had looked into a complaint against Berndt in the 1990-91 school year.
In an interview with The Times, Marlene Trujillo said that she was a fourth-grader in his class at the time, and that she wasn’t sure what to make of her teacher’s odd behavior.
She said Berndt often moved his hands under his desk, near his lap, at the front of the classroom. She and other students had seen a jar of Vaseline in one of his desk compartments.
Trujillo, a 30-year-old paralegal, said she was called before a school counselor with two other girls after one of them complained about Berndt’s alleged behavior. They were told not to make stories up, she said.
When told of the allegations by a reporter Wednesday, Deasy said he would immediately report them to sheriff’s investigators.
Berndt remains in jail on $23-million bail. His public defender has declined to comment. Los Angeles Unified School District officials said he was removed from the classroom in January 2011, immediately after they learned of the allegations. He was fired at board meeting in February 2011, but he challenged the dismissal and was able to resign while his case was under appeal. The resignation allowed him to keep his lifetime health benefits from the district. He also receives a nearly $4,000-a-month pension from the state.
-- Richard Winton and Howard Blume
Photo: Mark Berndt, 61, is charged with 23 counts of lewd acts upon a child. Credit: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department