Teacher accused of lewd acts had been under surveillance
A teacher accused of committing bizarre lewd acts on students in his elementary school classroom had been under surveillance by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for months before his arrest this week.
Deputies began the surveillance when they first suspected of him of wrongdoing more than a year ago. This effort eventually helped them obtain DNA evidence to strengthen their case, according to law enforcement sources.
Former teacher Mark Berndt, 61, is accused of gagging students with tape, blindfolding them and spoon-feeding his semen to them as part of a "tasting game." Berndt was arrested Monday and has been charged with 23 counts of committing lewd acts on children. He has not entered a plea. He is in jail on $23-million bail. His public defender has declined to comment.
He allegedly took hundreds of photos of the children, many with a milky substance around their mouths, authorities said. The charges date to 2005, prosecutors said.
Police became aware of Berndt in late 2010 after he allegedly took photos to be developed at a South Bay CVS pharmacy. A photo lab technician saw the images and called police.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department detectives showed school officials the photos in January 2011, and the district immediately suspended Berndt and later fired him.
Last January, they found a white substance on a spoon in his classroom. By July, tests had revealed the substance was semen. Detectives followed Berndt to get a sample of his DNA for comparison. Deputies saw Berndt spit on the sidewalk one day and used that saliva to match the semen to him, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing.
-- Richard Winton
Photo: Mark Berndt. Credit: L.A. County Sheriff's Department