Teacher Charged with Taking Bondage Pics of Students

PHOTO: Mark Berndt, 61, was arrested for felony molestation of 23 kids after photos surfaced of them in bondage positions.
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A former third-grade teacher in Los Angeles has been arrested for allegedly molesting nearly two dozen children after photos of students posed in bondage positions were passed to the sheriff's department.

Mark Berndt, 61, a teacher with more than 30 years experience at Miramonte Elementary School in south Los Angeles, is charged with molesting 23 children, according to a statement from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Police began the investigation after a photo processing facility passed along suspicious images depicting students blindfolded with their mouths covered in tape.

Female students were depicted with a blue plastic spoon containing "an unknown clear/white liquid" in front of their mouths, while other students were pictured with live cockroaches on their faces.

In some photos, Berndt had his arm around the children or his hand over their mouths.

Police found the spoon, along with an empty container in the trash in Berndt's classroom and, through DNA testing, determined that both contained Berndt's semen.

"I'm angry. I'm disgusted. I'm sad," parent Kimberly Kirklin told ABC station KABC-TV in Los Angeles.

The students were between the ages of 7 and 10 years old when the alleged crimes occurred, police said.

The photos were taken under the guise of a classroom game during school hours, according to the Los Angeles Times. Investigators believe the girls consumed the semen on the spoon as part of the game, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Authorities launched a widespread sex crime investigation, interviewing current and former students and school employees and searching Berndt's home. They recovered a total of 390 photographs and an adult "sexual bondage" film that mirrored the photos of the children, according to a statement by the sheriff's department today.

More than 26 children from the 390 photographs have been identified; an additional 10 children have not yet been identified, police said.

"This is an unfortunate incident that has occurred at our school, and I'd like to express my deepest sympathies to the families of those victims," Miramonte Elementary School Principal Martin Sandoval said.

John Deasy, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, said he was made aware of the investigation on Jan. 7, 2011, and fired Berndt the same day.

"I am sickened and horrified by the behavior of Mark Berndt," Deasy said in a statement released today. "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 (LAUSD)."

Deasy said that the school district had been offering crisis counseling and support to the known victims and their families for more than a year, and would continue to do so for any new victims or students that request assistance.

Berndt was arrested Monday and charged with 23 felony counts of lewd acts upon a child. He is being held at the Los Angeles County jail in lieu of $2.3 million bail and is due to be arraigned Wednesday.

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