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LAUSD accused of Miramonte abuse cover-up

LAUSD is under fire for its handling of the Miramonte sex-abuse case. Attorneys accuse the district of a cover-up.
May 2, 2014 3:19:55 PM PDT
The Los Angeles Unified School District is under fire for its handling of the Miramonte sex-abuse case. Attorneys for the victims are accusing the district of destroying records.

The new allegations come after the release of a 500-page pre-trial report, which was released by an L.A. County judge. The new report details new allegations of abuse against former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, including allegations he touched and exposed himself to students at the school.

Berndt was sentenced to 25 years in prison after entering his no contest plea to 23 counts of lewd conduct in November. Prosecutors said Berndt fed students his semen on cookies and by spoon in what he called "tasting games," sometimes blindfolding and photographing them. These are the first public allegations that Berndt sexually abused the students.

Attorney Brian Claypool represents 15 Miramonte students who are suing the district, alleging they were victimized by Berndt. Claypool says the recently released report shows that Berndt's crimes were far more egregious than lewd conduct.

"'Berndt touched students in many ways, ranging from highly assaulting touching of vaginas and female breasts,'" said Claypool, reading from the report.

The school district has already paid $30 million to settle with 63 Miramonte students, but another group of plaintiffs will go to trial this summer. The attorney representing that group says the district purposely destroyed files that detailed allegations of physical sexual abuse against Berndt dating back to 1981.

"It's my opinion that the LAUSD started destroying these records right around the time when these archdiocese cases were going on. They had something to hide. They knew there was a lot of material in those files to hide," said attorney Brian Claypool, who represents 15 Miramonte students who are suing the district, alleging they were victimized by Berndt. "That, in a civilized society, is simply intolerable."

The LAUSD confirms that the reports were destroyed in 2008, but says the reports were copies of law enforcement records that were compiled by mistake and that they were required to destroy them by state law.

"When the school district reviewed the law regulating possession and disclosure of these records, it realized that it had erred by collecting these highly confidential law enforcement documents and made sure to bring its policies in line with statute. It destroyed this duplicate information," district spokesperson Sean Rossall said in a statement.

"That is fiction," said Claypool. "That is a fairy tale."

Berndt's attorney, Manny Medrano, said his client is innocent of the allegations in the pre-trial report.

"When law enforcement investigates cases like this, they are required by law to put in their report every single allegation, even if it later turns out to be untrue," said Medrano. "So merely the fact that there's an allegation in that report, in that summary written by the judge, does not mean that that allegation is true."

Claypool has not settled with the district. His lawsuit on behalf of 15 students goes to trial this summer.

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