Former Students of 'Tasting Game' Teacher Complained About Him But No One Believed Them [UPDATED]
When pictures surfaced of a 30-year veteran teacher blindfolding his students, feeding them semen and putting cockroaches on their faces, you had to wonder: why hadn't anyone besides a photo lab technician come forward to complain?The short answer is that they had, but no one believed them. Some of Mark Berndt's students did come forward to complain to their parents and counselors when they noticed red flags, but counselors and parents brushed their worries aside. Another complaint resulted in an investigation in 1994, but no charges were ever filed.
A few students from decades ago spoke to the Los Angeles Times about their complaints. A woman who was Berndt's student in 1990-91 said that she reported Berndt's odd behavior to her counselor. Marlene Trujillo, along with two other girls, said that Berndt often moved his hands under his desk near his lap and that she noticed a jar of Vaseline in one of his desk compartments.
The counselor's response? She scolded them and told them to stop making up stories. At the time, Trujillo said she was just glad that she didn't get in trouble for speaking to the counselor, “I was glad that I didn’t get in trouble, that they didn’t tell my mom I was part of making up stories.”
Trujillo also added that years after she left Berndt's class, he sent her Christmas cards, Beach Boys tapes and Hostess pastries—looking back she says it seems kind of inappropriate. A classmate of Trujillo's said that she reported Berndt's weird behavior to her mom, but her mom didn't take it seriously, either.
One student's allegations against Berndt did seem to be taken seriously—although they did not result in charges. A young girl around 10 or 11 alleged that in 1994 that Berndt tried to fondle her over her clothing near her genitals. Berndt was investigated, but for some reason the DA ultimately rejected that case.
UPDATED 12:24 PM: The DA's office released a statement about the Berndt case in 1994: "The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department investigated allegations against Mark Berndt involving a September 1993 incident. On Feb. 23, 1994, the evidence was presented to the District Attorney’s Office. After careful evaluation, it was determined that the evidence was insufficient to prove a crime occurred."