The television crime show Law & Order often uses stories “ripped from the headlines,” but the accusations against 61-year-old third-grade teacher Mark Berndt may be too gruesome for even the boundary-pushing show.
Berndt is under arrest on suspicion of committing disgusting acts on his students, such as spooning them his semen and placing large cockroaches on their faces, reports the Los Angeles Times.
He allegedly told the students that they were going to play a “tasting game” and made them tell him if the white substance was salty or sweet. He also allegedly photographed the students while they were bound and gagged with the spoon and live cockroaches. Authorities reportedly found the spoon used in the photos in a garbage can in his classroom, and DNA tests revealed the substance to be his semen, according to the Times.
A longtime teacher with the Miramonte Elementary School, Berndt was arrested on Monday and charged with 23 counts of lewd acts against children, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore. More charges may be filed as additional victims come forward.
The alleged victims are reportedly boys and girls ranging in ages from 7 to 10, and the abuse is believed to have occurred between 2005 and 2010, according to the Times.
Berndt’s arrest was the result of a yearlong investigation, which first began after a CVS photo technician alerted the police to suspicious photos of blindfolded and gagged children. The Los Angeles School Unified District also fired him in January after authorities notified them of the allegations.
Under California law, committing lewd acts on a child under the age of 14 is a felony punishable by imprisonment for three, six or eight years. The penalty increases if force, violence or fear was used to commit the acts.
Berndt’s bail was raised to $23 million during his first court appearance on Wednesday, according to msnbc.com. His arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 21.
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