In an exclusive interview Wednesday night, HLN’s Dr. Drew talked to the first alleged male victim to come forward in the student sex abuse scandal rocking Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles.
The alleged victim, now 14, was a student in former teacher Mark Berndt’s third-grade class.
Berndt, who had taught at the school for more than 30 years, was the first of two teachers accused of lewd acts involving students at Miramonte this year. Berndt is accused of taking bondage-style photos of students, some reportedly with cockroaches on their faces, and feeding students cookies that were tainted with his DNA. He pleaded not guilty to the 23 counts against him earlier this month.
The alleged victim, who we’re calling “Alex”, told Dr. Drew he may have eaten one of Berndt's cookies.
“The cookies tasted, like, kind of funky -- like, they had a weird taste to them,” he explained.
Dr. Drew asked if he had fears of catching a sexually transmitted disease.
“I have those kinds of fears," Alex responded. "I try not to think about these fears that much because I want to keep my mind off of it. I want to stay focused -- like in school -- keep my mind settled and off the topic."
Alex's father, who we’re calling "Paul”, has two older children who were also students of Berndt.
“I met him 25 years ago with my first child ... He was a great man ... He was like a brother to me. I trusted him,” Paul said. “He was well liked by my family ... he would always hug my kid -- put his arm around them and pat them, including myself ... he never gave me any indication whatsoever he was doing something wrong.”
Dr. Drew asked Alex if Berndt saw him as one of his favorites in class.
“Yes,” Alex replied. “I was one of the good kids. On Fridays, he would have little prizes for the kids who were good ... He would blind fold them, and give them prizes.”
Dr. Drew followed up, asking him if he saw anything wrong with that behavior.
He responded, "Not really. I was in third-grade. I [couldn’t] really tell right from wrong."
Brian Claypool, an attorney who is representing 10 of the alleged victims, including Alex, says this whole situation is “the ultimate betrayal.”
“This is insane to be honest,” Claypool said. “In order for Berndt to carry this out, he had to gain everybody's trust. He can only be carrying out these abusive acts on the kids if he has them in good standing ... All the kids we are representing are kids labeled as 'good kids' to Mr. Berndt.”
Dr. Drew asked how he plans to prove that Berndt was a predator in the classroom.
Claypool responded, "Law enforcement found bodily fluids from Berndt in his trash can."
He continued, “We have two kids we’re representing who saw Mr. Berndt in the classroom with his hand in his groin area. Then she sees him lift his hand up and sees a white substance in his hand. He then takes a Ziploc bag -- zips the bag and puts it in a lunch box. We also have two girls who were lured into his classroom and Berndt asked him to carry boxes for him. The girls looked into the boxes as saw three test tubes with a white substance.”
Claypool also noted he has learned through two children that "in 2010, the principal of the school walked into the classroom that Mr. Berndt was teaching and saw him videotaping the children with a video camera ... I think it's for his (Berdnt's) own use. He gave a photograph to our clients. He was that bold.”
Claypool says Berndt’s alleged betrayals began much earlier. Hear him describe those allegations by clicking here.
In the meantime, Berndt is being held on $23 million bail. He is due back in court next month.
*Editor's note: We've reached out to the LAUSD. They had no comment. HLN cannot independently confirm the allegations made by Brian Claypool.
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