Miramonte abuse scandal: Lawyers claim new evidence

Lawyers representing students and parents in a civil suit are leveling new accusations at the Los Angeles Unified School District over the Miramonte Elementary School abuse scandal.

Attorneys representing nearly 70 children and parents from Miramonte Elementary School say they have proof that the LAUSD ignored alleged lewd and lascivious acts by teacher Mark Berndt.

They say they have newly discovered documents supporting their allegations that there were clear signs of such behavior against children by Berndt.

“This is a pattern of years by the Los Angeles Unified School District to intentionally suppress and conceal evidence of suspected child abuse,” said attorney Brian Claypool.

Berndt is now in jail. He is pleading not guilty to criminal charges of lewd and lascivious behavior.

There is a separate civil action against the school district.  Parents are suing the school district for what allegedly happened.  The school district denies wrongdoing and has been trying to negotiate an out-of-court settlement in the civil action.

The school district documents include a state auditor report that the district mishandled allegations of misconduct.  The document says they failed to report at least 144 cases of teacher misconduct in a timely manner.

“The L.A. Unified School District was put on notice about the alarm bells and the triggers that were going off and yet they didn’t hear them and they didn’t see them,” said attorney Luis Carrillo.

The school district issued a statement on the Miramonte case:  “The school district has consistently sought to resolve the claims in the Miramonte matter in a way that respects the needs of the students.  Our primary goal in this process is supporting the health and well-being of the students.”





Abington woman sentenced in child abuse case

An Abington woman, accused with her ex-boyfriend in connection with the abuse and neglect suffered by an infant boy in their care, is behind bars for her “atrocious” conduct.
Colleen Melissa Miller, 32, of the 1000 block of Tyson Avenue, was sentenced in Montgomery County Court to 11 ½ to 23 months in the county jail after she pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of endangering the welfare of a child and recklessly endangering another person in connection with her contact with the 7-month-old child.
“Essentially, she is admitting that she left this child alone with a man that she knew to be very violent and dangerous … which exposed that child to the risk of serious bodily injury, and that child was seriously injured while in that man’s care,” said Assistant District Attorney Samantha Cauffman, who argued for significant jail time against Miller.
Judge Thomas C. Branca also ordered Miller to complete three years’ probation after she’s paroled from jail and to undergo intensive drug, alcohol and mental health treatment as conditions of the sentence. The judge said Miller is eligible for the jail’s work release program but is prohibited from having any contact with the child.With the charges, authorities alleged Miller left the child, for whom she was caring, alone with her former boyfriend, John Matthew O’Neill, even though she had a protection order against O’Neill, and then didn’t seek immediate medical care for the child when she returned home from a night of drinking and discovered the child suffered serious injuries to his anus, allegedly at the hands of O’Neill.

“What this woman did, by leaving this child to the whims of a very dangerous man, is atrocious, and she needed to pay for her actions, which were much more than just a series of bad decisions,” said Cauffman, who previously argued Miller “violated the most sacred duty” a person can have, which is to keep a child safe.

Defense lawyer Mark A. Hinrichs argued for leniency, in the form of probation, for Miller.

O’Neill, 33, of the 1400 block of Arnold Avenue, Abington, is still awaiting trial on charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault of a child, indecent assault of a child, reckless endangerment, child endangerment and simple and aggravated assault in connection with his alleged contact with the 7-month-old infant.

Cauffman said the child is “on the road to recovery” from his injuries.

O’Neill, who remains in the county jail, allegedly gave conflicting statements to detectives about the cause of the child’s anal injuries, including claiming a pet cat caused the injuries or that the child fell against a bathtub fixture during bathing, according to the arrest affidavit.“O’Neill admits being the sole caretaker of [the child] prior to and during the time where [the child] received his injuries,” Abington Detective Michael Begley alleged in the criminal complaint.

The investigation determined Miller, at about 10 p.m. Aug. 12, 2011, allowed O’Neill, her ex-boyfriend, to come to her home, even though she had a valid protection from abuse order that prohibited O’Neill from being at her residence, and asked him to stay with a child that was in her care while she went out with her new boyfriend, court papers indicate.

Miller allegedly returned home at 3 a.m. Aug. 13. After a brief discussion during which O’Neill allegedly stated the child was “fine,” Miller asked O’Neill to leave the residence. As O’Neill left he allegedly stated to Miller, “There’s blood in the trash can, it’s from me,” according to the arrest affidavit.

When Miller checked on the child she noticed blood on the bedding.

“She also found blood throughout other areas of the house. Miller found blood splatter, bloody diapers, towels, sheets and baby wipes,” Begley alleged, adding Miller noticed something unusual about the child’s anal area while removing the child’s diaper.

At about 4:40 a.m. Miller allegedly sent a text message to a relative stating, “You need to come, what I have to show you is not good,” according to the arrest affidavit. However, even after Miller couldn’t reach her relative, Miller did not call for medical assistance for the child, authorities alleged.

Miller’s relative, retrieving the message about six hours later, rushed to her home at 10:45 a.m. and found the child “unresponsive but breathing,” and noticed the child’s anal injuries and bruising to both sides of his head at his temples and under his jaw, according to the criminal complaint. Miller’s relative rushed the child to Abington Memorial Hospital.
The child underwent emergency surgery for what doctors described as “horrific injuries to the anus area,” which were life-threatening, according to court documents.

When authorities took O’Neill into custody, they discovered what appeared to be a blood “splatter mark” on the top of his right shoe, according to the arrest affidavit.
Due to the child’s critical condition, the little boy was transported to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where doctors diagnosed the injuries to the child’s anus as “violent trauma,” including perforation of the intestines, according to the criminal complaint.

The child underwent emergency surgery for what doctors described as “horrific injuries to the anus area,” which were life-threatening, according to court documents.

When authorities took O’Neill into custody, they discovered what appeared to be a blood “splatter mark” on the top of his right shoe, according to the arrest affidavit.

CREDITS By Carl Hessler Jr. chessler@journalregister.com