Days after the arrest of a school teacher accused of taking bondage-style photos of students with cockroaches on their faces, a second instructor from the same school was arrested on Friday on suspicion of molesting two girls, authorities said.
Publicity surrounding the arrest of the first teacher, Mark Berndt, 61, led to complaints being brought against his colleague, Martin Springer, 49, though the two cases were believed to be otherwise unrelated, said Captain Mike Parker of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
Word that a second teacher had been accused of sexually abusing students at the Miramonte Elementary School heightened the anguish of parents already angry and bewildered over news of Berndt's arrest on Monday.
I'm about to pull my child out of the school, parent Latanya Morris told reporters outside the school, located in a mostly low-income neighborhood near South Los Angeles. There's too much going on at this school right here, right now. I don't know, so it's a lot to think about.
Adding insult to injury, Los Angeles Unified School District officials have confirmed that Berndt, terminated a year ago after coming under investigation, was still receiving a state pension of nearly $4,000 a month.
School officials suspended Springer on Thursday after receiving allegations of possible inappropriate behavior, the LAUSD said in a statement. The district's superintendent said he would ask the school board at its meeting next Tuesday to fire Springer.
He was arrested on Friday on suspicion of performing lewd acts on two girls and was jailed on $2 million bond, Parker said. The girls accused Springer of fondling them in class during the past three years, the sheriff's department said.
Berndt, who taught third grade, was arrested on Monday and charged with 23 counts of lewd acts on children. He remained jailed on $23 million bail, officials said.
His arrest followed a year-long investigation that began when a drug store photo processor turned over pictures to police that showed students blindfolded and with their mouths covered with tape.
Some of the pictures, which were taken in a classroom, showed students with spoons of a substance later determined to be his semen held to their faces, sheriff's officials said.
Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said Berndt was suspected of convincing the abused students they were playing some kind of a tasting game.
Johan ElFarra, a public defender for Berndt, could not be reached for comment on Friday.
The latest allegations against Berndt result from 390 photographs investigators have collected in the case, as well as interviews with more than 80 current and former students and school administrators, authorities said.
The children involved were seven to 10 years old at the time they are believed to have suffered the abuse, which prosecutors say occurred between 2005 and 2010.
In some cases, children were pictured with large, live Madagascar-type cockroaches on their faces and mouths, the Sheriff's Department has said.
In one aspect of the case that sheriff's officials say underpins the sexual nature of Berndt's alleged actions, the photographs show the children being offered a plastic spoon containing a milky liquid.
A spoon recovered from the trash bin in Berndt's classroom later tested positive for semen, and Berndt's DNA was found to match that of the DNA profile found on the spoon, said Sgt. Dan Scott, an investigators for the sheriff's special victims unit.
Investigators also recovered a DVD video from Berndt's home depicting adult sexual bondage activity that mirrored the bondage-type photos of the children, sheriff's officials said.
Scott said sheriff's deputies previously investigated allegations from a 9-year-old girl who claimed Berndt in 1993 had tried to reach under her desk to fondle her.
Prosecutors the following year declined to file charges in the matter after determining they lacked sufficient evidence, the District Attorney's Office said in a statement on Thursday.
LAUSD officials said the school district had no record of the previous investigation of Berndt.