LOS ANGELES (AP) — A former teacher whose arrest sparked a scandal at an elementary school that led to the replacement of all of its teachers pleaded not guilty Tuesday to committing lewd acts with 23 children in his classroom.
Mark Berndt, 61, remained jailed on $23 million bail. He was the first of two teachers arrested within a week on molestation charges involving students at Miramonte Elementary School
Martin Springer, 49, previously pleaded not guilty after he was charged with committing three lewd acts on one girl in 2009. He is free on $300,000 bail.
The entire Miramonte staff was replaced — at least temporarily — as the investigation proceeds.
Former students have sued, alleging other molestation incidents.
Outside the courtroom where Berndt was arraigned, his attorney, Victor Acevedo, complained that deputies used a loudspeaker system at the jail to identify Berndt to other inmates as a child molestation suspect.
He said the actions “put a bulls-eye on his head,” placing his client in danger.
“Anyone accused of these charges, who is in the custody of the Sheriff’s Department, always runs the risk of their personal safety, for obvious reasons,” Acevedo said.
Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore told City News Service that an investigation has been launched into the claim.
Berndt was a teacher for more than 30 years at Miramonte. He was arrested in January and charged with committing lewd acts on children as young as 6.
Hundreds of photographs were found of children with blindfolds and tape over their mouths. Some photos depicted children being fed a white liquid which authorities allege was the teacher’s semen.
Berndt was ordered back to court on March 28, when a date will be set for his preliminary hearing.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.