Accusations made against second teacher at school of alleged lewd acts

Feb 3 2012 - 10:27am

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This 2003 photo provided by Flor Cervantes shows former Miramontes Elementary teacher Mark Berndt with her sister, Angelica Zuniga, then a third-grader, at the school in Los Angeles. Angelica Zuniga, 16, now a high school junior, said Berndt, who is suspected of taking bondage-style photographs of children in his class, never asked her or others to do anything strange or to play any inappropriate games. (AP Photo/Flor Cervantes)
This 2003 photo provided by Flor Cervantes shows former Miramontes Elementary teacher Mark Berndt with her sister, Angelica Zuniga, holding a citizenship diploma given to her by Brendt, at the school in Los Angeles. Angelica Zuniga, 16, now a high school junior, said Berndt, who is suspected of taking bondage-style photographs of children in his class, never asked her or others to do anything strange or to play any inappropriate games. (AP Photo/Flor Cervantes)
This 2003 photo provided by Flor Cervantes shows former Miramontes Elementary teacher Mark Berndt with her sister, Angelica Zuniga, then a third-grader, at the school in Los Angeles. Angelica Zuniga, 16, now a high school junior, said Berndt, who is now suspected of taking bondage-style photographs of children in his class, never asked her or others to do anything strange or to play any inappropriate games. (AP Photo/Flor Cervantes)
Police are seen at the The Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012. A school teacher, Mark Berndt, bound and gagged nearly two dozen children, put cockroaches on some of their faces and posed in photos with them in a classroom, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said Tuesday. Berndt, 61, was arrested Monday and remained jailed on $2.3 million bail.(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Miramonte Elementary school principal Martin Sandoval walks out to address the media outside the school in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012. Veteran Miramonte Elementary school teacher Mark Berndt, 61, was arrested on charges of lewd conduct with 23 children after a film processor gave police photos showing blindfolded children with their mouths taped and cockroaches on their faces. Berndt, 61, not seen, was arrested Jan. 30, 2012 and remained jailed Tuesday on $2.3 million bail. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
This 2003 photo provided by Flor Cervantes shows former Miramontes Elementary teacher Mark Berndt with her sister, Angelica Zuniga, then a third-grader, at the school in Los Angeles. Angelica Zuniga, 16, now a high school junior, said Berndt, who is suspected of taking bondage-style photographs of children in his class, never asked her or others to do anything strange or to play any inappropriate games. (AP Photo/Flor Cervantes)
This 2003 photo provided by Flor Cervantes shows former Miramontes Elementary teacher Mark Berndt with her sister, Angelica Zuniga, holding a citizenship diploma given to her by Brendt, at the school in Los Angeles. Angelica Zuniga, 16, now a high school junior, said Berndt, who is suspected of taking bondage-style photographs of children in his class, never asked her or others to do anything strange or to play any inappropriate games. (AP Photo/Flor Cervantes)
This 2003 photo provided by Flor Cervantes shows former Miramontes Elementary teacher Mark Berndt with her sister, Angelica Zuniga, then a third-grader, at the school in Los Angeles. Angelica Zuniga, 16, now a high school junior, said Berndt, who is now suspected of taking bondage-style photographs of children in his class, never asked her or others to do anything strange or to play any inappropriate games. (AP Photo/Flor Cervantes)
Police are seen at the The Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012. A school teacher, Mark Berndt, bound and gagged nearly two dozen children, put cockroaches on some of their faces and posed in photos with them in a classroom, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said Tuesday. Berndt, 61, was arrested Monday and remained jailed on $2.3 million bail.(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Miramonte Elementary school principal Martin Sandoval walks out to address the media outside the school in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012. Veteran Miramonte Elementary school teacher Mark Berndt, 61, was arrested on charges of lewd conduct with 23 children after a film processor gave police photos showing blindfolded children with their mouths taped and cockroaches on their faces. Berndt, 61, not seen, was arrested Jan. 30, 2012 and remained jailed Tuesday on $2.3 million bail. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

LOS ANGELES -- A second teacher has been removed from a classroom at Miramonte Elementary School, where a teacher this week was charged with photographing children for sexual thrills, authorities said Friday.

The teacher was removed after someone made accusations against him, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy confirmed to KTTV-TV.

He declined to provide details but said the district had notified law enforcement investigators.

"We have some information and we are currently investigating that" but the teacher has not been arrested or charged with any crime, Los Angeles County sheriff's Lt. Carlos Marquez said.

He said child-abuse investigators were informed by the district late Thursday night. He declined to provide details.

Third-grade teacher Mark Berndt, who worked at the school for 30 years, was charged with committing lewd acts on 23 children, ages 6 to 10, between 2005 and 2010. He remains jailed on $23 million bail and could face life in prison if convicted.

The development involving the second teacher was made public a day after authorities acknowledged that 18 years ago a 10-year-old girl claimed Berndt tried to fondle her.

Prosecutors declined to file to charges against Berndt in the 1993 report, saying they didn't have enough evidence.

The details of that case and other claims by two former students about strange behavior by Berndt surfaced just three days after his arrest.

The allegations also raised further questions about why he wasn't disciplined by school officials, who have been lambasted by some parents for waiting a year to reveal Berndt was suspected of taking bondage-style photographs of children in his class.

Only parents of children identified as victims were told by authorities about the most recent investigation.

School officials and investigators said proper procedures were followed to investigate and build a case against the teacher.

The incident involving the 10-year-old girl occurred in September 1993 but wasn't reported by her mother to officials at Miramonte Elementary School until the following January, after her daughter had seen an "Oprah" show about inappropriate touching, Los Angeles County sheriff's Sgt. Dan Scott said Thursday.

The girl claimed Berndt reached toward her genitals during class and she pushed his hand away, Scott said.

School officials notified the sheriff's department, which submitted evidence to prosecutors. They opted not to file a charge of committing a lewd act on a minor under the age of 14. Berndt was never arrested.

"Based on what I read, it was a thorough and complete investigation," said Scott, who noted the investigator who handled the case has retired.

Sandi Gibbons, a district attorney spokeswoman, said in a statement the case was rejected because there was insufficient evidence to prove a crime had occurred. The statement did not elaborate.

Berndt denied the allegation at the time.

Earlier, two women who said they were former students of Berndt told the Los Angeles Times that complaints were made about his odd behavior as far back as 1990.

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy told the newspaper he was struggling to determine how the alleged behavior went undetected for so long.

"How do I make sense out of the fact that this took place over a number of years and no one seemed to know about that?" Deasy asked. "I'm definitely trying to understand how someone could not have known."

Using a cheap camera, Berndt is suspected of snapping nearly 400 photographs of Miramonte students, some with a giant Madagascar cockroach from a classroom terrarium on their faces.

Others were blindfolded or had clear tape over their mouths, and some were given sperm-laced cookies to eat as treats in the photo sessions that were treated like games, Scott said.

Some of Berndt's students defended him, saying he was a kind and generous teacher.

Angelica Zuniga, a 16-year-old high school junior, was in third grade in 2003 when she had Berndt as a teacher. She said he never asked her or others to do anything strange or to play any inappropriate games.

"They're calling him 'monster.' He's just not that kind of person," Angelica said. "He was one of the most amazing teachers out there. He's dedicated his life to us, and I want to stick up for him."

The latest investigation of Berndt began last fall when a film processor became suspicious about the photographs and turned them over to Redondo Beach police, who on Dec. 2 handed them over to the sheriff's department, Scott said.

Berndt, who taught at Miramonte for more than 30 years ago, was removed from classwork in January and fired within the month.

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Associated Press writers Robert Jablon and Raquel Maria Dillon contributed to this report.

 

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