|Teacher Mark Berndt....UNDER ARREST....|
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The investigation began over a year ago when over 40 photographs depicting children in a school classroom, with their eyes blindfolded and mouths covered with tape, were turned in to law enforcement by a film processor. Film processors are mandated to report suspected child abuse under California law (11166 of the California State Penal Code).
Investigators learned that some of the photos depicted Suspect Mark Berndt with his arm around the children, or with his hand over their mouths.
In addition, the photographs depicted girls with what appeared to be a blue plastic spoon, filled with an unknown clear/white liquid substance, up to their mouths as if they were going to ingest the substance. There are also photos of children with large live Madagascar-type cockroaches on their faces and mouths.
Over 80 current and former students and school employees were interviewed during the extensive investigation. 23 boys and girls between the ages of 7 - 10 years old, have been identified as victims for crimes that were committed between 2008 - 2010.
A search warrant was served by sheriff's detectives on the suspect’s home in the city of Torrance, which led to the discovery of over 100 more similar photographs depicting children. Also recovered was a DVD of film depicting adult sexual “Bondage” activity which mirrored the bondage-type photos of the children. The adults in the bondage video were not identified and the images in that video are not a crime.
An additional 250 photographs were later recovered by Sheriff's Special Victims Bureau detectives from the film processing establishment.
There were over 26 children identified in the 390 total photos. Approximately 10 children have not yet been unidentified.
Early in the investigation, Special Victims Bureau detectives recovered a blue plastic spoon and an empty container from the trash within the suspect’s classroom. The recovered items tested positive for semen. Through further investigation, the suspect’s DNA was obtained and tested, and determined that it matched that of the DNA profile found on the spoon and container.
For over 30 years the suspect was a teacher at Miramonte Elementary School, 1400 E. 68th St., Los Angeles (unincorporated Florence/Firestone area). Shortly after the investigation began, in March 2011, the suspect was terminated by the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Twenty-three felony counts of Lewd Acts Upon a Child, 288(a) of the California State Penal Code, involving 23 children were filed in Norwalk Superior Court on Monday, January 30, 2012, with bail set at $2.3 million.
The suspect was arrested at his home in the City of Torrance Monday, and booked at the Sheriff’s Inmate Reception Center of the Los Angeles County jail system.
Sheriff's Special Victims Bureau investigators is seeking the help of the public to identify possible additional victims during the suspect’s tenure at Miramonte Elementary School. Special Victims Bureau detectives can be contacted at (877) 710-5273(LASD) or firstname.lastname@example.org Or if you wish to remain Anonymous, call “LA Crime Stoppers” by dialing 800-222-TIPS (8477), texting the letters TIPLA plus your tip to CRIMES (274637), or using the website http://lacrimestoppers.org Report number: 010-21677-2170-120