-- Howard Blume, LA Times/L.A. NOW | http://lat.ms/11TwR9M
December 5, 2012 | 6:00 am :: Attorneys filed four more lawsuits this week in connection with lewd-conduct charges against a former teacher at Miramonte Elementary School.
The litigation, filed Monday by the firm Manly & Stewart, accuses the Los Angeles Unified School District of negligence, fraud, sexual harassment, gender violence and infliction of emotional distress for failing to protect students from veteran instructor Mark Berndt.
Berndt, 61, taught one of the students for two years and supervised the others after school, according to the lawsuits. In these cases and others, he’s accused of spoon-feeding his semen to blind-folded children as part of what he allegedly called a tasting game. He’s also accused of putting cockroaches on children's faces and feeding them semen-tainted cookies.
Authorities began investigating Berndt after a drugstore clerk gave police bizarre photos of students taking part in these acts.
Attorney John Manly said Tuesday that he sued on behalf of four students because “over 100 children allege they were victimized by this man, and there’s no credible explanation of how this happened."
"The only people who have investigated the school district is the school district,” he added.
Manly accused L.A. Unified of trying to withhold information that is embarrassing or that could increase its liability. The attorney scheduled a Wednesday morning news conference to discuss the litigation.
District officials have defended their response. They said they have provided counseling and help for affected families, cooperated fully with law enforcement and acted quickly and comprehensively to address shortcomings in their response to allegations. The district also replaced the entire staff of the school, located in Florence-Firestone, for the second half of the 2011-12 school year.
Berndt was arrested in January but removed from the school a year earlier.
Last week, officials said that 126 students and 63 parents have filed Miramonte-related claims for damages against L.A. Unified. There also are two other lawsuits on behalf of 33 students and one on behalf of 11 parents.
Berndt faces 23 counts of lewd conduct and is being held in lieu of $23-million bail. He has pleaded not guilty.
Vanessa Romo | KPCC 89.3/Pass-Fail | http://bit.ly/TJFC1d
Krista Kennell/AFP/Getty Images Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles, California February 6, 2012.
December 5th, 2012, 8:25am :: The list of plaintiffs in the case over alleged child abuse by teachers at Miramonte Elementary School is getting a little longer. Attorneys representing four students who say a teacher performed lewd and lascivious acts against them announced they filed a lawsuit against L.A. Unified.
The four children are all under 11-years-old and are former students of veteran Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt. He is accused of feeding some of his students cookies laced with his own body fluids and then taking pictures of it.
In addition to damages, attorney John Manly – of the law firm Manly and Stewart – is demanding that L.A. Unified release all reports of abuse by teachers throughout the district.
Without those documents there’s no way to “understand where the failure happened and who’s responsible,” Manly said. “Because if you just pay money and you don’t fix that, other kids are going to get hurt."
The lawsuits were filed in the wake of a report issued last week by the California State Auditor, which concluded that LAUSD failed to properly report at least 144 cases of teacher misconduct to state authorities.
The law firm of Manly and Stewart specializes in litigating sexual abuse civil cases. And Manly’s work was featured in the 2006 documentary “Deliver Us from Evil,” about the prosecution of Oliver O’Grady, a Roman Catholic priest, convicted of child molestation.
David Holmquist serves as general counsel for the school district. He issued a statement in response to the lawsuit:
“Although the school district has yet to receive this latest complaint, we are continuing to pursue an early resolution process with everyone impacted. Our sincerest hope is that through this process we can avoid the potential pain of lengthy litigation while promoting healing and improving trust with the community. We welcome the opportunity to work with Senator Escutia and Mr. Manly through this early resolution process.”
The 61-year-old Berndt taught at L.A. Unified’s Miramonte Elementary for more than 30 years. He was arrested in February after a yearlong investigation that was triggered when a photo lab worker told authorities about pictures Berndt brought in for processing: photos of kids with cockroaches on their faces, eating cookies topped with a white substance, sometimes bound and blindfolded. Berndt is charged with 23 counts of lewd acts against children.
Another Miramonte teacher, Martin Bernard Springer, recently pleaded not guilty to three felony counts of fondling a student.
Manly says his firm represents another 22 alleged victims and will be filing civil lawsuits on their behalf in the near future.
About 100 other students say they have been victims of some type of abuse at Miramonte and are in talks with the district to reach a settlement.