By MATT REYNOLDS Courthouse News Service | http://bit.ly/KMCZZ9
Thursday, May 31, 2012 Last Update: 7:18 AM PT :: LOS ANGELES (CN) - Parents and 11 former students of Miramonte Elementary School claim in Superior Court that Los Angeles Unified School District ignored the "rampant molestation" of Mark Berndt, a 61-year-old teacher who was fired in January.
Berndt is not a party to the complaint, but the former teacher has been charged with 23 counts of lewd acts on 23 children age 7 to 10. He is being held on $23 million bail.
Among other things, Berndt is accused of spoonfeeding his semen to blindfolded children, or putting it on crackers or cookies for them to eat. He also placed cockroaches and other bugs on the children, and videotaped and photographed the acts, according to the complaint.
"Berndt is a true serial sexual pervert and child molester," the complaint states.
The parents accuse LAUSD of negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, violation of the Bane Act*, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Members of the LAUSD Board of Education and Superintendent John Deasy are among the named defendants.
A similar complaint was filed at the same court on May 4.
According to the lawsuits, Berndt was hired even though he had a criminal record for child abuse and had been accused of sexual abuse in previous teaching jobs.
The parents say that in the early 1990s Miramonte students complained that Berndt had sexually abused them, but "the charges were blatantly ignored and the children were told in essence: 'Stop making up stories.'"
LAUSD's inaction allowed Berndt to sexually abuse Miramonte students for "over two decades unfettered," according to the new complaint.
"Absent any action by LAUSD, or the Miramonte administration, to supervise or restrain Berndt he continued with his depraved and rampant abuse of his very young students, scaring them for life and robbing them of their trust, peace of mind, innocence, and childhood as only a true sexual deviant can," the complaint states. "The nature, scope, duration, and depravity of his abuse was on a truly massive and unprecedented scale in American history. His victims likely number in the hundreds."
During Berndt's tenure, the parents say, two other teachers, Martin Springer and Richard Guevara, were also abusing students. Guevara is serving jail time, according to the complaint, and Springer was arrested in February.
"In essence, at one period in time no less than three serial child molesters were actively abusing hundreds of Miramonte students at the same time for years," the complaint states.
Berndt allegedly kept a jar of Vaseline on his desk which he used to masturbate in class, and sometimes wore a "freakish" Mickey Mouse costume with women's tights, the parents say. They claim the school's principal Martin Sandoval walked into the classroom as Berndt was videotaping students but let him off with a verbal warning.
The parents claim LAUSD ignored those red flags and other instances of "freakish behavior."
"LAUSD ignored multiple prior student complaints about Berndt and a district attorney investigation. LAUSD ignored parent complaints and failed to detect the massive number of lewd acts committed by at least three active child predators on one small campus for years," the complaint states.
It adds: "Moreover, when hundreds of disgusting and heart-wrenching photographs of children being abused by Berndt surfaced in the media, LAUSD then tried to cover it up, belittled the accusers, buried the story and obstructed the criminal investigation."
The parents say LAUSD allowed Berndt to stay on campus after the allegations surfaced, then tried to blame the parents for not detecting the abuse.
"LAUSD is charged with the ultimate responsibility to keep the children entrusted to them safe and secure, and yet failed miserably to uphold that responsibility," the complaint states.
The plaintiffs seek punitive damages.
They are represented by Brian Claypool of Pasadena.
* per the CA Attorney General: "The Bane Act," Civil Code section 52.1 --provides protection from interference by threats, intimidation, or coercion or for attempts to interfere with someone's state or federal statutory or constitutional rights (these include association, assembly, due process, education, employment, equal protection, expression, formation and enforcement of contracts, holding of public office, housing, privacy, speech, travel, use of public facilities, voting, worship, and protection from bodily restraint or harm, from personal insult, from defamation, and from injury to personal relations)-- proof of "hate motivation" required, according to a 1994 Court of Appeal decision in Boccato v. City of Hermosa Beach