Going on the attack, a lawyer on Friday said the LA County Sheriff’s Department is “unequipped” to properly investigate sex abuse allegations at Miramonte Elementary School and called on the California Attorney General’s Office to help.
Brian Claypool, an attorney representing six alleged victims of abuse at the Florence school, said he didn’t believe sheriff’s detectives were up to the task of investigating the allegations and possible cover-up that allowed abusive behavior for two decades.
Full Coverage: Miramonte Abuse Scandal
“We are insisting upon an independent, outside investigation of this debacle,” he said during a press conference outside the school. “The LA County Sheriff’s Department is not equipped to continue on its investigation.”
Claypool said he was outraged by a statement made by sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore in a KPCC report saying that a potential victim had "fabricated" her story of a female teacher who aided sex abuse suspect Mark Berndt in his alleged “lurid acts.”
The girl claimed that a female teacher had escorted her into Berndt’s classroom where he allegedly took cellphone pictures of the girl eating a cookie with a “white gooey substance” on it, Claypool said.
KPCC News Director Paul Glickman said that Claypool appears to have misconstrued what Whitmore said in the KPCC report.
“Mr. Whitmore never told us that the girl fabricated her story, nor did we report that he said that,” said Glickman. “Mr. Whitmore was commenting on the allegation in a TV story that the girl’s teacher had helped Mark Berndt victimize children."
Berndt, who worked at Miramonte for more than 30 years, was arrested Monday and charged with felony molestation involving 23 students, ages 7 to 10, between 2005 and 2010, officials said.
He was in custody Friday, being held on $23 million bond. He was expected to be arraigned on Feb. 21.
A message left for Berndt’s public defender, Victor Acevedo, was not immediately returned.
In addition to Berndt, a second teacher was arrested. Martin Bernard Springer, 49, faces three counts of lewd acts on a child over a three-month period in 2009, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
He was released from custody after posting bail.
The Berndt case came to light in late 2010 after a film processor contacted police about photos depicting children in a classroom with their eyes blindfolded and tape covering their mouths, officials said.
Claypool said he has crafted a letter to California Attorney General Kamala Harris, requesting that her office get involved in the investigation.
Lynda Gledhill, an AG Office spokeswoman, declined to comment, saying the Attorney General had received no formal request.