No further arrests planned of Miramonte teachers, sheriff says
Los Angeles County sheriff's officials on Wednesday said they have no plans to make more arrests in the cases of two Miramonte Elementary School teachers accused of committing lewd acts on children.
Sgt. Dan Scott said the investigation was continuing but that no other teachers are under suspicion at this time. An attorney representing the family of one of the alleged child victims has suggested that a third teacher might be involved in the case.
But Scott said that teacher is not a suspect. Detectives have interviewed that teacher and said they have no plans to arrest her.
The news comes as authorities discovered 200 new photos allegedly taken by one of the teachers arrested last week.
The new photos were recovered late last week from a South Bay CVS pharmacy after a search of the drugstore's computer systems for photos from former teacher Mark Berndt.
Scott said the new photos -- like the others -- showed children with mouths taped over, blindfolded and sometimes with them eating from a spoon or with a cockroach on them. He said there are some new children's faces in the batch of photos. Prosecutors allege that Berndt spoon-fed his semen to blindfolded children as part of what he called a “tasting game.”
Berndt was charged with 23 felony counts and was being held on $23 million bail. A second teacher, Martin Springer, was charged Monday with three counts of lewd acts upon a child. He was arrested Friday after girls at the school came forward with allegations. One of those girls has since recanted her claims, a law enforcement source said.
On Monday, Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. John Deasy announced he was removing the entire staff of Miramonte and replacing them with new personnel. Deasy said he took the action to help restore parent confidence in the school.
The Times has reported that several people said they complained about Berndt’s conduct over the last 20 years. Deasy said he’s launched investigations aimed at examining a possible "culture of silence” at the school in which “someone could have known something and then chose not to act."
When Berndt, 61, was arrested, school district officials said they had no record of any previous misconduct or complaints against him. But evidence of past warning signs has since emerged.
One former student said in an interview with The Times that during the 1990-91 school year a counselor told her and two other girls to stop inventing stories after a complaint that Berndt appeared to be masturbating behind his desk. In 1994, detectives investigated a complaint that Berndt had tried to touch a girl's genitals, though prosecutors deemed the evidence too weak to file charges.
And one father said that he complained in 2008 to the Miramonte principal after his daughter brought home photographs that Berndt had taken of her. In one image, she was eating a cookie coated with what investigators now suspect is Berndt's semen.
-- Richard Winton
Photo: Mark Berndt in 2003.
Credit: Associated Press