A.M. v. LAUSD (Miramonte Case)

In a very high profile case, the Carrillo Law Firm represented over 26 children against the Los Angeles Unified School District in the case involving Mark Berndt, an elementary school teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in South Los Angeles, CA who had been sexually abusing children. While at Miramonte, and over a close to 30-year period, Mr. Berndt had been sexually abusing children in strange and lewd ways. In addition to groping some children, Mr. Berndt would bring his semen to his classroom in milk creamer cups and as a reward to the kids that did well, would put his semen as “frosting” onto cookies and feed them to children. Additionally, he would give his semen to kids on a spoon and feed it to the children. While he was feeding to semen to children, he would blindfold the children and take a picture of them taking bites of the cookies or with the spoon in their mouths.

Additionally, in an attempt to recreate necrophilia pornography, Mr. Berndt would place cockroaches onto the bodies of his students and would then have his student clothes their eyes and take pictures of them while he had cockroaches on their bodies. It was later discovered during a search warrant that Mr. Berndt liked necrophilia pornography when they found videos at his home with similar scenes of individuals having sex with seemingly dead bodies.

Mr. Berndt had a long history of being caught with lewd behavior around children starting in the 1980’s. Specifically, in 1983, he was reprimanded for dropping his pants in front of students while on a field trip to a museum. Then, in the 1991-1992 school year, Mr. Bernt is accused of masturbating in class. Instead of removing Mr. Berndt, the girls are placed in counseling at the school. In 1993 there were additional complaints of Mr. Berndt wearing short shorts with no underwear and sitting on the edge of the desk exposing his penis to students. Even though parents complained, then-principal at the time said “There’s nothing I can do. He’s got tenure.” Later in 1993, a student reports that Mr. Berndt fondled her while she was taking a test. Then in 2008, a mother complains about a cookie photo that a student had taken home. Instead of removing Mr. Berndt, the principal transfers the child to another classroom and nothing is done to Mr. Berndt.

It was not until a photo developer at CVS made a report about questionable photos she was developing to police in 2010. After a thorough investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Mr. Berndt was charged with 23 counts of committing lewd acts on children and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

In a heavily litigated case against the LAUSD, the Carrillo Law Firm, along with two other law firms, secured a record $139.5 million to settle approximately 82 claims against the school district. This was the largest settlement ever recorded against a school district in the country for the sexual abuse of minors. In addition to the settlement, the LAUSD changed its policies to hopefully prevent similar instances of gross negligence by its staff and administrators who failed to protect these children.

News coverage of the verdict:

https://abc7.com/woman-gets-$2m-after-el-monte-district-found-negligent-over-sex-offender-teacher/5178398/

https://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-edu-el-monte-student-sexual-molestation-20190308-story.html

https://www.scpr.org/news/2019/03/08/88601/former-arroyo-high-school-student-wins-5-million-i/

http://noticias.estrellatv.com/noticias/el-distrito-escolar-de-el-monte-debera-pagar-por-abuso-sexual-a-estudiante-noticias-62/

https://www.univision.com/maestro-acusado-de-cometer-crimenes-sexuales-regresa-a-trabajar-a-una-escuela-del-sur-de-california