Former Miramonte Elementary Teacher Pleads Not Guilty
Former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, 61, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to 23 counts of lewd acts on children.
He is being held on $23 million bail, $1 million for each of the charges. Additional charges could be forthcoming.
Berndt was arrested at his Torrance home on January 30 after allegedly taking photos of students being blindfolded and gagged, holding spoons filled with bodily fluids close to their mouths. There are also photos of children with a live cockroach on their faces and mouths.
Police have currently identified about 25 victims and believe there may be more than 100 victims over the course of five years.
The investigation began over a year ago, when the photographs were submitted to the police by a film processor. After a search warrant at Berndt's home, detectives discovered over 100 photographs as well as an adult DVD depicting sexual bondage. Currently about 600 photos have been retrieved.
Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent John Deasy said he was "sickened and horrified" by the allegations against Berndt and provided crisis counselors for the children and their families. In response to the case, Deasy shut the down the school for two days and replaced the entire staff. Parents and students have had mixed reactions to the staff replacement.
Berndt could face up to life in prison if convicted of the charges. He is due back in court on March 28 for a hearing to evaluate whether there is sufficient evidence for him to stand trial.