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Miramonte Civil Cases Could Hamper Criminal Investigation, Says Sheriff's Department

02/18/12 11:42 PM ET  AP

LOS ANGELES -- The investigation into a former third-grade teacher charged with committing lewd acts on students could be hampered by the flood of civil cases related to the scandal and public statements made by alleged victims, according to Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives.

The charges against Berndt, 61, were made public Jan. 31. He faces 23 counts of lewd acts upon children, ages 6 to 10. Since the charges were announced, civil attorneys say they are representing more than 60 victims, the Times reported. Earlier this week two alleged victims appeared with their attorney on the "Dr. Phil" television show.

"The lawyers are making it that much more difficult," William McSweeney, chief of detectives for the Sheriff's Department, told the newspaper. "It is going to raise issues of credibility."

The civil attorneys have made claims about Berndt that are not contained in the original charges, including some accusations – repeated on "Dr. Phil" – that Berndt fed the alleged victims cookies with his semen on them.

Investigators say that although they suspect Berndt fed his semen to some students during "tasting games," they have no evidence to prove it.

Last week, one attorney suggested that another teacher at Miramonte was involved in the Berndt case. The department took the unusual step of publicly stating the teacher was not a suspect in the case.

Berndt's attorney has declined requests to discuss the case.

The civil attorneys say new alleged victims are continuing to come forward. Detectives are still investigating and are urging families to contact the Sheriff's Department before seeking private counsel.

In interviews with the Times over the past two weeks, plaintiffs' attorneys and some parents are have provided details and added new allegations that go well beyond the criminal complaint.

Prosecutors have the advantage of physical evidence, in the form of hundreds of photographs that Berndt allegedly took of his students.

At least two families said they were so disturbed by the photos that they raised concerns at the school. But there is little indication that the children complained about what was going on in Berndt's classroom.

"It's a grotesque form of eroticism," attorney Matthew McNicholas, who represents six alleged victims, told the Times. "That's why, for the most part, it doesn't register with these kids. . They just don't know how to comprehend it."

Meanwhile, superintendent John Deasy sent a video message to all 85,000 employees of the LA Unified School District, saying the allegations at Miramonte don't diminish their work.

"Just because a few members have done terrible things," Deasy said in the video posted Saturday by the LA Daily News, "that does not reflect on the amazing teachers, leadership and classified staff I see every day at LAUSD."

The four-minute video, titled "Breaking the Silence," encourages employees to learn from what Deasy calls the "tragedy" at Miramonte Elementary – starting with a review of the district's child abuse training.

Deasy also explains the status of the Miramonte staff and faculty who were replaced while the district investigates the allegations. The removed staff members have been relocated to a new, unopened high school nearby.

Deasy says they are being interviewed by police and district investigators and counselors, and attending professional development classes.

All will have the chance to return after the investigation, Deasy said.

___

Earlier on HuffPost:

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  • Nine-year-old Ashley Villatoro, left, holds a poster showing an image of former teacher Martin B. Springer as students arrive at Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012. Children are returning to the school where the entire staff has been replaced following the arrests of two former teachers on charges of committing lewd acts with students in class. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Nine-year-old Ruby Garduno, right, holds a sign as students enter Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Kathryn Kidd, center, distribute bracelets to students outside Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Nine-year-old Ashley Villatoro, center, holds a sign showing images of former teacher Martin B. Springer outside Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • An adult accompanies two students into Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • A mother who declined to give her name walks with her daughter outside Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Los Angeles Unified School District administrators, counselors and new teachers gather at the Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012. Allegations of teacher lewd behavior comes as school district administrators move to replace the entire staff at Miramonte Elementary School while the Los Angeles Unified School District investigates two teachers arrested last week. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Student Stephanie Perez, left, reacts, as she demands to keep her teacher, along with friend, Ruby Garduno, as some parents gather to show support for teachers outside the Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012. Allegations of teacher lewd behavior comes as school district administrators move to replace the entire staff at Miramonte Elementary School while the Los Angeles Unified School District investigates two teachers arrested last week. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Los Angeles Unified School District board president Monica Garcia makes a statement following a closed-door meeting of the Board of Education in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012. Prosecutors have filed a lewd-acts complaint against the second of two teachers removed from a Los Angeles-area elementary school, and the Board voted to fire him in the closed-door meeting. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

  • With portraits of school children behind him, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy takes his seat following a closed-door meeting of the Board of Education in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

  • Parent Maria Guadalupe Garcia holds a sign reading in Spanish: " We don't want new teachers," as some parents protest replacing the staff outside the Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Parents and others protest outside Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. About three dozen parents and supporters staged a protest at the Los Angeles-area school rocked by allegations of lewd conduct crimes by two teachers against children. They demanded greater communication with education officials and the placement of cameras in classrooms and hallways at Miramonte Elementary School. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Ivis Urbina, right, with her granddaughter Alexa Agillon, 6, protest with others outside Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. About three dozen parents and supporters staged a protest at the Los Angeles-area school rocked by allegations of lewd conduct crimes by two teachers against children. They demanded greater communication with education officials and the placement of cameras in classrooms and hallways at Miramonte Elementary School. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Los Angeles Unified School District police guard the front door of Miramonte Elementary school as parents protest outside in Los Angeles on Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. About three dozen parents and supporters staged a protest at the Los Angeles-area school rocked by allegations of lewd conduct crimes by two teachers against children. They demanded greater communication with education officials and the placement of cameras in classrooms and hallways at Miramonte Elementary School. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Parents bring their children to school as others protest outside Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. About three dozen parents and supporters staged a protest at the Los Angeles-area school rocked by allegations of lewd conduct crimes by two teachers against children. They demanded greater communication with education officials and the placement of cameras in classrooms and hallways at Miramonte Elementary School. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Edgar Flores, right, encourages other parents to join a protest outside Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. About three dozen parents and supporters staged a protest at the Los Angeles-area school rocked by allegations of lewd conduct crimes by two teachers against children. They demanded greater communication with education officials and the placement of cameras in classrooms and hallways at Miramonte Elementary School. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Attorney Luis Carrillo announces a claim against the school district on behalf of Dalia Gutierrez, the mother a girl who was an alleged victim of teacher Mark Berndt between 2008 and 2010, at the Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. Berndt, 61, who worked at the school for 32 years, has charged with committing lewd acts on 23 children, ages 6 to 10, between 2005 and 2010. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Dalia Gutierrez wears the coat of her attorney, Luis Carrillo, not shown, before announcing a claim for alleged abuse suffered by her daughter at Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. Teacher Mark Berndt, 61, who worked at the school for 32 years, has charged with committing lewd acts on 23 children, ages 6 to 10, between 2005 and 2010. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Yolanda Sanchez talks about what she describes as documented child abuse of her son, outside the Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles, Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. About three dozen parents and supporters staged a protest at the Los Angeles-area school rocked by allegations of lewd conduct crimes by two teachers against children. They demanded greater communication with education officials and the placement of cameras in classrooms and hallways at Miramonte Elementary School. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies stand outside Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. About three dozen parents and supporters staged a protest at the Los Angeles-area school rocked by allegations of lewd conduct crimes by two teachers against children. They demanded greater communication with education officials and the placement of cameras in classrooms and hallways at Miramonte Elementary School. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • This 2003 photo provided by Flor Cervantes shows former Miramontes Elementary teacher Mark Berndt with her sister, Angelica Zuniga, then a third-grader, at the school in Los Angeles. Angelica Zuniga, 16, now a high school junior, said Berndt, who is now suspected of taking bondage-style photographs of children in his class, never asked her or others to do anything strange or to play any inappropriate games. (AP Photo/Flor Cervantes)

  • This 2003 photo provided by Flor Cervantes shows former Miramontes Elementary teacher Mark Berndt with her sister, Angelica Zuniga, holding a citizenship diploma given to her by Brendt, at the school in Los Angeles. Angelica Zuniga, 16, now a high school junior, said Berndt, who is suspected of taking bondage-style photographs of children in his class, never asked her or others to do anything strange or to play any inappropriate games. (AP Photo/Flor Cervantes)

  • This 2003 photo provided by Flor Cervantes shows former Miramontes Elementary teacher Mark Berndt with her sister, Angelica Zuniga, then a third-grader, at the school in Los Angeles. Angelica Zuniga, 16, now a high school junior, said Berndt, who is suspected of taking bondage-style photographs of children in his class, never asked her or others to do anything strange or to play any inappropriate games. (AP Photo/Flor Cervantes)

  • Miramonte Elementary school principal Martin Sandoval walks out to address the media outside the school in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012. Veteran Miramonte Elementary school teacher Mark Berndt, 61, was arrested on charges of lewd conduct with 23 children after a film processor gave police photos showing blindfolded children with their mouths taped and cockroaches on their faces. Berndt, 61, not seen, was arrested Jan. 30, 2012 and remained jailed Tuesday on $2.3 million bail. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • The Miramonte Elementary school's principal, Martin Sandoval speaks to the media outside his school in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012. Veteran Miramontes Elementary school teacher Mark Berndt, 61, was arrested on charges of lewd conduct with 23 children after a film processor gave police photos showing blindfolded children with their mouths taped and cockroaches on their faces. Berndt, 61, not seen, was arrested Jan. 30, and remained jailed Tuesday on $2.3 million bail. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • A student enters into Miramontes Elementary School in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Students are escorted to a waiting bus as they leave Miramonte Elementary school after classes Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Police are seen at the The Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

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