Evidence was insufficient to charge teacher in '94, D.A. says
The Los Angeles County district attorney's office declined to bring charges against veteran Los Angeles teacher Mark Berndt in 1994 because prosecutors determined there was "insufficient evidence" that he attempted to fondle a girl.
Berndt is currently being held on $23-million bail after his arrest Monday on 23 counts of committing lewd acts against children. Sheriff's officials said Thursday that he had been previously investigated -- but not charged -- in connection to an incident in Sept. 1993 in which a 10- or 11-year-old girl in his class accused him of trying to touch her genitals on top of her clothing.
In a written statement about that allegation issued Thursday, prosecutors said, "After careful evaluation, it was determined that the evidence was insufficient to prove a crime occurred. All district attorneys in California follow uniform standards in filing criminal cases. A prosecutor cannot ethically file criminal charges if the evidence fails to meet the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt."
The girl told her mother that "she was taking a test at her desk in Berndt's classroom when the teacher reached toward her genitals and she pushed his hand away," sheriff's Sgt. Dan Scott said.
The girl said she realized that what had happened was wrong and told her mother after seeing an "Oprah" show about inappropriate touching, he said. Her mother reported the alleged incident to school officials, who called the sheriff's department.
Scott said he discovered records of the prior investigation Wednesday evening while reviewing files.
School district officials said they also learned of the earlier investigation on Wednesday. Superintendent John 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.
Berndt's public defender has declined to comment. Berndt 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.
Berndt was removed from the classroom in Jan. 2011 and fired the next month.
-- Richard Winton
Photo: Mark Berndt worked as a teacher for three decades at Miramonte Elementary School in South L.A. He is charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct against children. Credit: Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press