Mark Berndt Miramonte Elementary School teacher arrest surprises neighbors

LOS ANGELES - Neighbors of Mark Berndt, a former South Los Angeles teacher accused of molesting 23 children, said they most recognized him as the man who would often tend to his rock garden.

The 61-year-old lived in a back-unit of an apartment building he co-owned with his brother and sister-in-law in a quiet neighborhood in Torrance.

Neighbor John Hawes captured video of Berndt's arrest by sheriff's deputies Monday afternoon on his cellphone.

"I heard knocks on the door and someone said, 'sheriff's department,' and so I looked out the window and there's cops with rifles pointing at the door."

Until last March, Berndt made the commute to Miramonte Elementary School where he taught third grade for 30 years before his abrupt dismissal based on allegations of molestation.

Neighbors said they were not aware of that.

One neighbor said Berndt told him that he had retired from teaching.

"Poor guy was never married, never had a companion," said the neighbor who knew Berndt for 20 years.

Though, a few months on the beach bike path, the neighbor did recall seeing the Torrance man with a young companion -- a girl he figured to be about 14 years old.

The neighbors said Berndt asked that he not tell his sister of the bike ride with the teenager.

There was no answer Tuesday at Berndt's door.

Apart from a speeding ticket in Arizona, it's hard to find any indication that Berndt has ever been in trouble with the law, before these allegations of lewd conduct with students.

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