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The Los Angeles Unified School District has agreed to pay nearly $140 million to settle sex abuse lawsuits linked to ex-elementary school teacher and convicted child molester Mark Berndt.
Berndt, 63, was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2013 after pleading no contest to 23 counts of lewd acts upon a child, Reuters reports. Berndt was arrested after an investigation by police uncovered evidence that he'd forced his students to play a "tasting game" in which they were fed cookies tainted with Berndt's semen.
What are the details behind this settlement?
The settlement covers all remaining litigation in the Mark Berndt abuse case. The LAUSD had previously paid out $30 million in settlements in lawsuits related to the Berndt case, which involved about 150 of Berndt's former students from 2005 until his arrest in 2012.
The victims of Berndt's crimes range in age from 7 to 10. In addition to making his students consume cookies laced with semen, Berndt also photographed students bound and gagged and with live cockroaches crawling on their faces. His crimes were discovered after an employee of a photo lab noticed the pictures and alerted police.
Only days after Berndt's arrest, another teacher at Miramonte Elementary was arrested and accused of sexually abusing students. But those charges were later dropped after the alleged victim refused to testify, reports Los Angeles' KABC-TV.
In 2012, the California Supreme Court ruled that school districts may be held liable for the sexual abuse of students by teachers and other employees. Specifically, the court ruled that when school administrators hire, retain, or inadequately supervise an employee they knew or should have known had a propensity for misconduct, they may be liable for the damages caused by that employee.
The settlement in this case allows the LAUSD to avoid a protracted civil trial. A judge still needs to decide the distribution of the nearly $140 million between the approximately 80 victims involved in the settlement, reports Reuters.
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