The L.A. Unified School District agreed to pay $139 million to settle a child sexual abuse lawsuit involving a teacher at Miramonte Elementary School because, as one attorney observed, due to the “volcano of evidence” against the district there was “a legal gun pointed at their head.”
The settlement covers about 81 legal claims from parents against the LAUSD and the central culprit in the case Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt. Dozens of claims were settled last year for about $30 million reported the Los Angeles Times.
“We hope that this will help the community heal and move forward,” L.A. Unified general counsel Dave Holmquist explained. “We really want the community to feel healed by this.”
The Times reported that Berndt was often invited to students’ birthday parties and quinceañeras. He was known for his colorful Hawaiian shirts, class field trips, giving out silly nick-names and handing out lollipops.
However, the manipulative teacher was detected by a drugstore photo technician processing pictures of a child blindfolded and gagged with clear tape. Another picture showed a spoon filled with a milky liquid, in children’s mouths and on their lips, reported the Times.
Sheriff investigators began to closely watch Berndt. Sometime later, a detective discovered a spoon similar to the one in the picture in Berndt’s classroom trash can. The spoon contained semen that matched Berndt’s DNA.
After the teacher was arrested investigators discovered that Berndt had been the target of lewd conduct investigations with students dating back to the 1980s, which included charges of masturbation in the classroom and fondling of students.
Judge Shepard Wiley commenting on a two year inquiry into Berndt’s behavior documented in a 512 page report, said that, “There is a suggestion in the police report that Berndt watched videos of bondage of women, and that his taping of children was for Berndt some version of sexualized bondage.”
Berndt pleaded no contest to the abuse charges in 2013 and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.