July 13, 2012 — Fourteen mothers have filed a civil lawsuit against the Los Angeles public school district that employed Mark Berndt, a man accused of sexually abusing dozens of young children. Many of the parents and children are now in psychological counseling, and the lawsuit is seeking damages for “compensatory economic and special damages for medical expenses,” as well as “generalized shock and trauma.”
Parents are also calling on the Los Angeles Unified School District to change its “culture of silence” to prevent school officials from ignoring teacher misconduct in the future.
Mark Berndt faces a civil and criminal lawsuit, including 23 felony counts for lewd acts on children. He is currently in prison on $23 million bond. Law enforcement first became aware of Berndt’s actions in December 2010, when an employee of a photo developing store reported hundreds of questionable photographs of children. Further investigation has identified approximately 600 photographs of children taken by Berndt.
Berndt is accused of luring dozens of young children into his classroom for lewd activities. Most of the children were girls between the ages of 7 and 10 years old. Bernt is accused of blindfolding the children, feeding them cookies laced with an unidentified white substance, taking photos of the children with cockroaches on their faces, and taking photos with semen-filled spoons near their faces.
Berndt was immediately removed from his teaching position after the school district became aware of the police investigation. He had been a teacher at Miramonte Elementary for the last 30 years, and protested the school district’s actions until his arrest in January 2011. Soon afterward, another Miramonte teacher named Martin Springer was arrested for molesting a girl under 14 years old.
Following the arrests, Miramonte was shut down for two days and the entire staff was reconstituted. David Holmquist, general counsel for the school district, said that “The district is committed to working with the Miramonte community and everyone impacted by these incidents to improve trust and promote healing. … We are continuing our efforts to ensure that we are doing everything possible to provide a safe learning and working environment for our students and staff.”
Berndt faces multiple civil and criminal actions. In addition to the newest civil lawsuit, Berndt also faces a civil lawsuit from 22 children. That lawsuit was filed in May 2012. The criminal case against Berndt involves 23 alleged victims, but since that case was filed, more victims have been identified. It is possible that the Los Angeles district attorney will add those victims to the criminal suit in the future.
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