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Sheriff’s officials deny teacher charged in lewd behavior case is being harassed in jail


This news story was published on February 22, 2012.
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By Robert Faturechi and Dalina Castellanos, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — Sheriff’s officials denied claims Tuesday by an attorney for former Miramonte school teacher Mark Berndt that his client is being harassed at Twin Towers by deputies who staff the downtown Los Angeles jail.

However, officials said they would launch an investigation into the allegations.

Victor Acevedo, an attorney with the Los Angeles County public defender’s office, said in court during Berndt’s arraignment that jail staff publicly announced over a loudspeaker that Berndt was a child molester and named the dorm where he was being housed.

Berndt pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges that he engaged in lewd conduct with students at the southeast L.A. County school. He appeared unkempt and unshaven, allegedly because sheriff’s officials refused to give him a razor or a haircut, Acevedo said.

“My main concern is for my client’s safety,” Acevedo said at a news conference after the arraignment.

Berndt, 61, was charged last month with 23 counts of lewd acts. The investigation into Berndt began after a pharmacy photo lab technician discovered snapshots in which children were allegedly bound and gagged, and in some, being spoon-fed a white liquid that is believed to be Berndt’s semen.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore called the public defender’s allegations “completely inappropriate.”

“We don’t do that kind of thing, but we’re going to do an investigation of it,” he said.

Whitmore said the public defender should have come to the Sheriff’s Department first with the allegations.

“It’s the first we’ve heard of it,” he said. “Nobody knows anything about this.”

Sheriff’s Commander Jim Hellmold said the teacher “has never been in general population. He’s always been classified as a keep-away for security concerns.”

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