Crime

Atascadero teacher faces child porn charges in court — alleged victims range from 9 to 15

Chris Berdoll, an Atascadero Fine Arts teacher facing 44 child pornography-related felony charges, appears in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court on Monday, September 24, 2018.
Chris Berdoll, an Atascadero Fine Arts teacher facing 44 child pornography-related felony charges, appears in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court on Monday, September 24, 2018. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The Atascadero teacher accused of taking inappropriate videos of female students appeared in court Monday as his arraignment hearing continued.

Chris Berdoll, 48, a sixth-grade teacher at the Atascadero Fine Arts Academy, is facing 44 child pornography-related felony charges.

Berdoll stood Monday before a packed courtroom that included Tom Butler, Atascadero Unified School District superintendent, and Kibbe Rubin, Atascadero Fine Arts Academy principal.

Berdoll’s arraignment hearing was continued to Oct. 18.

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Chris Berdoll, a sixth-grade teacher, is accused of taking inappropriate videos of female students at the Atascadero Fine Arts Academy. Lindsey Holden lholden@thetribunenews.com

San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Ginger Garrett approved protective orders prohibiting Berdoll from contacting or going within 100 yards of victims alleged in the complaint.

Twenty-four of the 44 felony counts filed against Berdoll allege that he used students under the age of 18 to pose for child pornography images, according to a complaint filed Friday in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court.

The additional 20 charges accuse Berdoll of being in possession of child pornography. If Berdoll were to be convicted of all charges and ordered to serve his sentence consecutively, he could face more than 30 years in state prison, according to a spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office.

The criminal complaint lists 14 victims ranging in age from 9 to 15, with incidents occurring between Feb. 12, 2017, and Aug. 28, 2018. Some victims are named in more than one of the counts filed against Berdoll.

Officials have identified 20 victims in total, and a joint investigation involving the Atascadero Police Department and the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office remains ongoing.

More victims may be alleged and additional charges could be brought against Berdoll via an amended complaint, said Eric Dobroth, assistant district attorney.

Berdoll was arrested Sept. 10 after Atascadero school district officials contacted police about a teacher suspected of inappropriately taking videos of female students’ undergarments.

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Atascadero Academy of Fine Arts teacher Chris Berdoll could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted of all the charges against him. San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office

Atascadero Police Chief Jerel Haley said the alleged crimes occurred during this school year and a previous year.

Berdoll posted his $500,000 bail shortly after his arrest and was released from custody.

He’s been on paid administrative leave from his teaching position since Aug. 31, according to Butler.

High-profile lawyer on the case

Lisa Bloom, a high-profile Los Angeles civil rights attorney, is representing six of Berdoll’s alleged victims. Bloom’s mother, celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, is representing a Nipomo High School student athlete who claims she was sexually abused by her wrestling coach.

Bloom said parents contacted her about two weeks ago, and she was retained on Friday and present in court on Monday.

“I came up today to help the families get some of the answers that they need,” she said.

Bloom said her clients allege Berdoll secretly recorded them at the school using an iPad. She said she’s interested in learning more about what district officials knew about Berdoll and his conduct toward students, especially because the incidents allegedly took place on school grounds.

“We feel that the school really has a heightened responsibility,” she said.

When asked whether parents were considering a lawsuit against the school district, Bloom said she and her clients haven’t made any decisions, but “all actions are open right now.”

“Most of all, I wanted to stand with these girls,” she said. “These girls are very brave.”

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Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseymholden
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