- Associated Press - Thursday, February 2, 2012

LOS ANGELES (AP) — An elementary-school teacher suspected of taking bizarre bondage-style photographs of children in his class was investigated in 1994 for allegedly trying to fondle a 10-year-old girl, authorities disclosed Thursday.

The girl claimed Mark Berndt reached toward her genitals during class, but she pushed his hand away, sheriff’s Sgt. Dan Scott said.

The alleged incident occurred in September 1993 but wasn’t reported by the girl’s mother to officials at Miramonte Elementary School until the following January, he said.

The school notified the Sheriff's Department, which investigated Mr. Berndt. The case was sent to the district attorney’s office, which declined to file charges. Mr. Berndt denied the allegation.

“Based on what I read, it was a thorough and complete investigation,” said Sgt. Scott, who noted the investigator who handled the case had retired.

Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the district attorney, said her office couldn’t comment because it’s prohibited by law from speaking about cases in which charges weren’t filed after 60 days.

The disclosure marked the latest twist in the strange case against Mr. Berndt, who taught at Miramonte for more than 30 years before being fired a year ago.

Mr. Berndt, 61, remained jailed on $23 million bail on felony charges that he committed lewd acts on 23 boys and girls, ages 6 to 10, between 2005 and 2010. He could face multiple life sentences if convicted.

Angry parents confronted school officials on Wednesday, questioning why they weren’t told for a year that the former teacher was suspected of photographing children in class for sexual thrills.

Mr. Berndt was removed from the classroom in January 2011 and fired within the month, but only parents of children identified as victims were told by authorities at that time of the investigation.

School officials and investigators said proper procedures were followed to prevent anything that might harm efforts to investigate and build a case against the teacher.

“That’s cool and fine, but the detectives’ children don’t go here,” said Cheremoya Dupree, 38, whose two children attend the school and were not victims. “I want them to tell the truth … because I don’t think we got that.”

Miramonte Principal Martin Sandoval told reporters that he followed proper school district procedure.

Meanwhile, two women who said they were former students of Mr. Berndt told the Los Angeles Times that complaints were made about Mr. Berndt’s odd behavior as far back as 1990.

Marlene Trujillo, 30, said she and two other fourth-grade classmates told a school counselor that Mr. Berndt often moved his hands under his desk, near his lap, at the front of the classroom. She and other students also had seen a jar of Vaseline in one of his desk compartments.

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