Mark Henry Berndt, who taught for more than 30 years at Miramonte Elementary School in South Los Angeles, was ordered held in lieu of $23 million bail after appearing in court on charges of lewd conduct with children at the school. He comes back to court for arraignment on Feb. 21. "We amended the complaint because there was an error on the amount of bail," said Sandi Gibbons of the district attorney's office regarding the original $2.3 million bail. "The bail is actually $23 million, which was upheld by the court. That's a million dollars per count." From the LA Wave:
Berndt was arrested Monday at his Torrance home, according to the Sheriff's Department. He was later charged with 23 counts of committing a lewd act on a child involving 23 children, according to Jane Robison of the District Attorney's Office. The charges involve children 7-10 years old, who were allegedly abused between 2005 and 2011, according to the District Attorney's Office.
LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said Berndt was removed from the classroom when allegations arose in January 2011, and he was fired from his job at Miramonte at the next school board meeting.
The superintendent pronounced himself "sickened and horrified" by the behavior attributed to Berndt and said crisis counselors have been provided to the children and their families since the investigation began.
Sheriff's Sgt. Dan Scott said the investigation began more than a year ago when a film processor turned over more than 40 photographs of children in a classroom with their eyes blindfolded and mouths covered in tape. Some pictures showed Berndt with his arm around the children or with his hand over their mouths, he said.
According to the Sheriff's Department, some of the photographs "depicted girls with what appeared to be a blue plastic spoon, filled with an unknown clear/white liquid substance, up to their mouths as if they were going to ingest the substance. There are also photos of children with large live Madagascar-type cockroaches on their faces and mouths."
Sheriff's officials said detectives found a blue plastic spoon and an empty container in a trash bin in Berndt's classroom. Both items tested positive for semen, and DNA testing matched it to Berndt, according to the Sheriff's Department.
This Berndt is 61 and is not to be confused with Los Angeles photographer Mark Berndt.