Bail for L.A. teacher accused of abuse increased to $23 million
Bail for an elementary school teacher accused of gagging and blindfolding students in his class was increased to $23 million -- $1 million for each count he is facing -- at a hearing Wednesday.
Mark Berndt, 61, a longtime teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in South L.A., is charged with 23 counts of lewd acts against children. He is scheduled for arraignment on Feb. 21.
At the hearing, Berndt appeared wearing a yellow jail jumpsuit. His arms were handcuffed behind his back and he swayed back and forth during the proceedings. He spoke only to acknowledge Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Marcelita V. Haynes.
He appeared with his court-appointed attorney Liz Braunstein.
After the hearing, L.A. district attorney's office spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said Berndt faces a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole if he is convicted. She said there may be additional victims, including some who were not students at the school.
Since news of Berndt's arrest, five additional alleged victims have come forward to talk to investigators.
Authorities said Berndt regularly told his students 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.
Meanwhile, at the school, many parents remained shaken. Some said they were concerned they had lost confidence in the school. Dozens of parents were attending a meeting at the school.
-- Dalina Castellanos
Photo: Police are on the scene at Miramonte Elementary School; Mark Berndt, a former teacher at the school accused of abuse, had his bail increased to $23 million. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times