Once lawyers began digging into Mark Berndt‘s past, they discovered a three-decade pattern of odd behavior and complaints about the teacher that school administrators either missed or ignored.
Both students and teachers had complained about the popular elementary school teacher who was eventually convicted of committing numerous lewd acts on his students.
On Friday, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced it agreed to pay nearly $140 million to put an end to litigation involving the teacher, who had been accused of blindfolding students and feeding them his semen on spoons and cookies.
The settlement involving 81 students is believed to be the largest ever for a school sex abuse case, according to victims’ lawyers, and increases the public price of the scandal to $170 million when combined with 65 cases settled earlier for $30 million.
The deal ends a legal saga that began when the Miramonte Elementary School teacher was arrested in 2012 on allegations of committing lewd acts.
“There was a volcano of evidence,” attorney John Manly said. “The district settled this case because there was a gun pointed at their head, a legal gun, and it was about to go off and the public was going to find out everything.”
Lawyers said none of it would have come to light if it hadn’t been for a gutsy pharmacy photo clerk who called police when she discovered the troubling photos and learned Berndt had been processing similar pictures there since 2005.
The 19-year-old woman had only been on the job a month and her supervisors told her not to call police. She did it anyway.
“That’s the hero,” Manly said. “If she hadn’t made that call we wouldn’t be here and he’d still be teaching.”
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