February 3, 2012 / 10:20 PM / 6 years ago

Second teacher arrested amid L.A. sex abuse probe

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Police arrested a second teacher at a Los Angeles-area elementary school on Friday where one instructor is accused of taking bondage-style photos of students with cockroaches on their faces, officials said.

School official removed the second teacher from the classroom on Thursday after receiving “allegations of possible inappropriate behavior” involving the instructor, the Los Angeles Unified School District said in a statement.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department confirmed he had been arrested on suspicion of “inappropriate behavior.” Authorities planned a news conference for later Friday to discuss the case.

Officials have not named the second teacher, nor have they detailed the allegations against him. They also did not say whether there was any connection between the two teachers.

“He will remain off campus pending an investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department,” the school district said in a statement.

Mark Berndt, 61, a veteran third-grade instructor at Miramonte Elementary School, was arrested on Monday and charged with 23 counts of lewd acts on children. He remained jailed on $23 million bail, officials said.

Berndt was arrested at his home on Monday following a year-long investigation that began when a photo processor turned over pictures to police that showed students blindfolded and with their mouths covered with tape.

Some of the pictures, which were taken in a classroom, showed students with spoons of a substance later determined to be his semen held to their faces, sheriff’s officials said.

Berndt was removed from the school in January 2011, school and sheriff’s officials said. Johan ElFarra, a public defender for Berndt, could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Miramonte Elementary is in a mostly poor community near South Los Angeles.

On Thursday, Los Angeles prosecutors confirmed that in 1994 they declined to file charges against Berndt in what sheriff’s officials described as a young, female student’s allegations of attempted abuse.

The girl, who was then 9 years old, reported Berndt tried to reach under her desk and touch her but that she pushed his hand away, Scott said.

“After careful evaluation, it was determined that the evidence was insufficient to prove a crime occurred,” the District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

The latest allegations against Berndt result from 390 photographs investigators have collected in the case, as well as interviews with more than 80 current and former students and school administrators, authorities said.

The 23 children in the case were seven to 10 years old at the time they are believed to have suffered the abuse, which prosecutors say occurred between 2005 and 2010.

In some cases, children were pictured with large, live “Madagascar-type” cockroaches on their faces and mouths, the Sheriff’s Department has said.

In one aspect of the case that sheriff’s officials say underpins the sexual nature of Berndt’s alleged actions, the photographs show the children being offered a plastic spoon containing a milky liquid.

A spoon recovered from the trash bin in Berndt’s classroom later tested positive for semen, and Berndt’s DNA was found to match that of the DNA profile found on the spoon, Scott said earlier this week.

Investigators also recovered a DVD video from Berndt’s home depicting adult sexual bondage activity that mirrored the bondage-type photos of the children, sheriff’s officials said.

Reporting By Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Steve Gorman and Daniel Trotta

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