LAUSD Admits To Destroying Over Two Decades Of Child Abuse Records
The L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) has admitted that it destroyed decades of alleged child abuse records. This is linked to the investigation into former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt’s sexual abuse of children. John Manly, one of the victims’ eight lawyers, accused the District of destroying documents earlier this month in court.
L.A. Unified spokesman Sean Rossall told KPCC that the District did indeed destroy the records of sexual abuse cases at L.A. public schools in 2008, with files going back to 1988. There may be no way of knowing whether other reports of allegations against Berndt exist.
The question that Manly, and frankly, everyone, is asking is why LAUSD would destroy these records. Rossall said it was because the District felt like they should not have the reports. In 2008, the school district lawyers determined, based on a section of the penal code, that they shouldn’t have the documents, resulting in the destruction of all reports. However, the section they referenced is saying that they merely shouldn't disclose the reports, not that they shouldn't keep the reports.
Most of the documents were from the school's child abuse prevention group called Child Abuse: Recognize and Eliminate (CARE). CARE worked from 1988 to 2002 before dissolving, at which point former director Shayla Lever told KPCC the team sent the records to LAUSD’s general counsel.
According to NBC Los Angeles, Manly said, “The District's attempt to hide this order from the public reflects a deep concern at the highest levels of the District. That the public may learn the truth about Mark Berndt and destroy the fictional story LAUSD created to deceive the public about what they knew and when they knew it."
Now, a summary of the 512-page investigation included in Superior Court Judge John Wiley Jr.’s Tuesday ruling indicates that Berndt may have also touched female children’s genitals and breasts, exposed himself to children by wearing shorts and spreading his legs while sitting in front of students, and coerced children into touching his genitals. The report contains 260 pages of witness interviews and 600 photos Berndt took of his victims. The ruling opens up the use of unredacted information from the two-year investigation of Berndt.
The original charges against 61-year-old Berndt included 23 counts of lewd acts against children that surfaced when a film processor turned over 40 photos to the police in which children had tape over their eyes and mouths and live cockroaches on their bodies. In some photos, Berndt appeared to be feeding children spoonfuls of his semen. Berndt’s home also contained videos of bondage videos that may have been the inspiration for his photos.
Berndt pleaded no contest to his charges and was sentenced to 25 years in prison in November 2013.
NBC LA also reports that victims’ attorney Brian Claypool is asking the U.S. Department of Justice to now pursue a federal criminal investigation into LAUSD, who have already paid out $40 million in settlements regarding Berndt and fellow Miramonte Martin Springer alone, and their alleged cover up of child abuse. This case concerns another 71 children. The first trial is scheduled for July 8.