Los Angeles News

200 more photos surface of Miramonte child sex abuse case

Wednesday, February 08, 2012
Mark Berndt, 61, was arrested Monday, Jan. 30, 2012, on suspicion of molesting 23 students. Parents chanted Afuera, which means get out in Spanish, as new teachers arrived to replace the old staff at Miramonte. Authorities say investigating a sexual abuse case like the one at Miramonte Elementary is a complicated and tedious matter.

Police have found 200 more student bondage photos allegedly taken by a Miramonte Elementary School teacher accused of sexually abusing students.

Authorities said Wednesday that the pictures were much like the first set collected by authorities in the year-long investigation into former teacher Mark Berndt.

At least 25 more students from Miramonte Elementary School are depicted in the new pictures. Investigators are trying to identify those students.

The 61-year-old third grade teacher was fired last year when the investigation on him began. He worked with the school for 32 years. He was arrested last week and charged with 23 counts of lewd acts on children ages 6 to 10.

According to authorities, the initial batch of photos showed children blindfolded with cockroaches on their faces and spoons full of semen in front of their mouths. The new pictures were found at the same CVS pharmacy's photo printing database, bringing the total number of photos to roughly 600.

"He would take these photographs and send them home to the parents," said attorney Greg Owen, who is representing nine of Berndt's alleged victims. "The parents would say, 'Oh my goodness, this kind teacher is giving my child cookies. Let's frame this and put it on the mantle.'"

Owen is also in possession of notes he says were written by Berndt. In one letter to a student, he wrote, "How are the 'babies' doing?" referring to the cockroaches he let that student take home to take care of. In another note, he wrote, "The roaches say, 'Hi!'"

Owen said the teacher also made personalized CDs for his students.

"Oftentimes, he'd play these songs while he was victimizing them. Then, with his sick mind, he'd make a CD and send it home," the attorney said.

Owen is the first attorney to file suit against Berndt and the Los Angeles Unified School District. He said his clients already show signs of trauma.

"At this point in time, she won't let her father hug her, she won't get near any males and in fact, doesn't want to talk to them," Owen said.

Owen wants the LAUSD to agree to a large settlement outside of court.

Berndt's arrest last week sparked a ripple-effect of child sex allegations against other current and former teachers.

The school board has voted in favor of firing teacher Martin Springer after charges were filed alleging he sexually abused two female students. The 49-year-old teacher had worked at the school for 26 years. He was formally charged on Tuesday with three counts of lewd acts on a child.

However, according to authorities, one of the girls dropped her case on Wednesday. They said they are not pursuing that case because she and her family did not want to get involved in the investigation.

"In this case we are not saying that the kid gave us information that was not factual," said police Lt. Carlos Marquez. "The child decided with the family this was not a course they wanted to take. It was not a case they wanted to file with the D.A., they only filed on the one."

On Monday, an attorney for three of the alleged victims accused a third teacher, a female, of helping deliver students into Berndt's classroom to be abused. Marquez said that although they have information that a female teacher could have been involved, they said there was no indication of criminal behavior after interviewing her.

Authorities are also investigating another allegation that a teacher's aide sent love letters to an 11-year-old boy at Miramonte in 2009.

The Los Angeles Times says the mother came to officials at the school to report that the aide, a woman who appeared to be in her 50s, had written several letters, including one that read: "when you get close to me, even if you give me the chills I like that. Don't tell nobody about this!"

The mother said the teacher's aide acknowledged writing the letters. A school district spokeswoman said the aide no longer works for the school system.

Miramonte was closed Tuesday and Wednesday while an entire new staff was brought in to replace all 128 staff members at the school, from custodians up to the principal.

The new staff consists of former Los Angeles Unified School District employees who were laid off because of budget cuts. They reported to the school Wednesday to prepare for class Thursday.

The bold move to replace everyone has some parents and students upset, arguing that all the teachers weren't bad.

Some parents chanted "Afuera," which means "get out" in Spanish, as the new teachers arrived.

New teachers like Contisia Davis said they know it will be a difficult task.

"I feel good about coming in and being a positive influence on these children," she said. "I feel comfortable in what I came here to do, so if everyone does their job, then we'll be all right."

Parents handed Superintendent John Deasy a petition with 400 signatures calling for open doors at the school, where parents would be allowed to observe classrooms and act as hall monitors.

Parents said they don't want innocent teachers removed in the middle of the school year because it will only further disrupt the lives of their children.

The school board says Miramonte's old staff will continue to be paid. They will be housed at an undisclosed school without students while interviews take place to try and determine what exactly happened at Miramonte, and why the reports of alleged sexual abuse went undetected for so long.

Authorities say investigating a case like this is a complicated and tedious matter.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Special Victims Bureau received such a high volume of tips for this case, the voicemail system shut down, as did their email system.

Marquez said children are highly subject to rumor. They will say things they believe parents want to hear just to calm them down.

"The kids are sometimes coached into saying certain things. Sometimes it's a child who heard something and they make it their own story," Marquez said. "We want the child to give us the cleanest version of the interview, as opposed to having to go through what they said because they thought that's what their parents wanted to hear."

CORRECTION: It was earlier reported that the female student recanted her allegation against Martin Springer. According to authorities, that was inaccurate.

The Associated Press and ABC News contributed to this story.

(Copyright ©2014 KABC-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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