Cops: Teacher took 'bondage' pics of students

NEED TO KNOW
  • Police say 400 photos show elementary school students blindfolded and gagged
  • 30-year teaching vet is charged with 23 counts of lewd acts on a child
  • Mark Berndt is in jail on a $23 million bond, $1 million for each count

A community in California is outraged after learning a 30-year teaching veteran at a local school allegedly took pictures of his student in ‘bondage’ type poses. Graphic details of what the images depicted are shocking parents at Miramonte Elementary School.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Dan Scott says the 400 photos collected by investigators show children blindfolded, with tape over their mouths and some kids with cockroaches on their faces. The more disturbing images show female students 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," authorities said. Police believe the liquid is semen, possibly mixed with sugar.

Authorities say the investigation into 61-year-old Mark Berndt began in October 2010 when a CVS drugstore photo technician told police about finding disturbing images of blindfolded children in a processing order.

“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," a sheriff's statement said. "The recovered items tested positive for semen."

But the arrest came over a year later after lab testing matched Berndt's DNA with semen found on the spoon.

"We always had our eyes on him and there was never a chance he would get away from us," Scott said.

A search of Berndt's home turned up hundreds of more photos. Police say they also found a video depicting adult sexual "bondage" activity "which mirrored the bondage-type photos of the children." Although Berndt wasn’t arrested until this week, he was fired by the elementary school in January 2011.

Investigators interviewed more than 80 current and former students and school employees in the process of identifying 23 boys and girls, then between the ages of seven and 10 years old, as alleged victims in crimes that are believed to have been committed between 2005 and 2010, Scott said. About 10 children seen in the more than 400 images have not yet been identified.

“The young students didn't realize they were victimized," Scott said. “They thought they were being blindfolded and gagged as a game... And they were rewarded with cookies or spoons full of 'sugar.' They did not realize the spoon contained semen.”

Investigators did not reveal the contents of the fluid to the children or tell them that the case involved child molestation allegations, he said.

"I am sickened and horrified by the behavior of Mark Berndt," Los Angeles School Superintendent John Deasy said in a statement after the arrest. "This individual and his conduct do not reflect on the quality of the teachers who work so hard on behalf of the students in the Los Angeles Unified School District."

Gloria Polanco has two children who attend Miramonte Elementary School. She tells HLN’s Vinnie Politan, “The news and media is the one who informed us and I am very angry because the principal never, never informed us, and he knew about this a year ago. I’m very thankful for my kids, but I am very destroyed, (and) broken-hearted about the other families.”

Mark Berndt sits in jail with his bond set at $23 million on the 23 felony counts he faces of lewd acts on a child. Berndt's public defender has not spoken to reporters about the case, which is set for arraignment on February 21.

Watch Vinnie Politan on HLN's Prime News live weeknights at 6 p.m. ET and follow @VinniePolitan on Twitter.

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