Detectives investigating a Miramonte Elementary School teacher accused of lewd acts against students this week discovered 200 new photos he allegedly took of students.
The new photos were recovered late last week from a South Bay CVS pharmacy after a search of the drug store's computer systems for photos from former teacher Mark Berndt, said Sheriff Sgt. Dan Scott.
It was same location that initially yielded 40 images in the fall of 2010 and led authorities to begin a more than a year-long investigation of the educator. When Berndt was arrested last week, authorities said they recovered a total of 400 photos gathered from various locations including his home.
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Scott said the new photos -- like the others -- showed children with mouths taped over, blindfolded and sometimes with a cockroach on them or eating from a spoon. He said there are some new children's faces in the batch of photos. Prosecutors allege that Berndt spoon-fed his semen to blindfolded children as part of what he called a “tasting game.”
Berndt was charged with 23 felony counts and was being held on $23-million bail.
On Monday, Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. John Deasy announced he was removing the entire staff of Miramonte and replacing them with new personnel. Deasy said he took the action to help restore parent confidence in the school.
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The Times has reported that several people said they complained about Berndt’s conduct over the last 20 years. Deasy said he’s launched investigations aimed at examining a possible "culture of silence” at the school in which “someone could have known something and then chose not to act."
When Berndt, 61, was arrested, school district officials said they had no record of any previous misconduct or complaints against him. But evidence of past warning signs has since emerged.
One former student said in an interview with The Times that during the 1990-91 school year a counselor told her and two other girls to stop inventing stories after a complaint that Berndt appeared to be masturbating behind his desk. In 1994, detectives investigated a complaint that Berndt had tried to touch a girl's genitals, though prosecutors deemed the evidence too weak to file charges.
And one father said that he complained in 2008 to the Miramonte principal after his daughter brought home photographs that Berndt had taken of her. In one image, she was eating a cookie coated with what investigators now suspect is Berndt's semen.