Did Atascadero police legally search teacher charged with child porn?

Chris Berdoll

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

The defense attorney for a former Atascadero teacher accused of taking upskirt photos and videos of young female students is attempting to throw out much of the prosecution’s evidence on the grounds it was obtained via a warrantless search.

Chris Lynn Berdoll, 50, is facing a combined total of 44 counts of possession and production of child pornography. Berdoll was a sixth grade teacher at the Atascadero Fine Arts Academy, where he allegedly filmed girls’ legs, butts and crotches.

Prosecutors allege Berdoll victimized 20 children, six of whom are plaintiffs in a lawsuit that was recently filed against the Atascadero Unified School District.

According to the suit, Berdoll would ask the girls to help him straighten up the classroom and to have lunch with him. While alone with the students, Berdoll would upskirt the girls and have students pose or model for him, the suit alleges.

If students declined his invitations, Berdoll would allegedly follow them to the playground with his electronic devices. In some cases, Berdoll photoshopped himself having sex with images of his students, according to the lawsuit.

On Nov. 12, Ilan Funke-Bilu, Berdoll’s attorney, filed two motions seeking to suppress all evidence investigators obtained from his client’s cell phone and smart watch. The motions also attempt to prevent prosecutors from presenting as evidence statements made by Berdoll and observations made by the arresting officers.

According to Funke-Bilu’s first motion, on Aug. 30, 2018, an Atascadero detective stopped Berdoll’s vehicle while he was surveilling the teacher. The detective, along with a patrol officer, detained Berdoll. The patrol officer confiscated Berdoll’s phone and watch.

Meanwhile, a second detective was attempting to get a search warrant signed by a judge.

Officers detained Berdoll outside his vehicle without arresting him for approximately 77 minutes, doing so under the pretense that the second detective wanted to speak to him, Funke-Bilu stated.

The second detective did not obtain the warrant until nearly an hour after Berdoll was initially detained. The detective who obtained the warrant arrived at the scene about 78 minutes after officers stopped Berdoll, according to Funke-Bilu’s motion.

Funke-Bilu stated police obtained “certain fruits” as a result of a warrantless search and seizure, a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The defense attorney filed a second motion requesting a judge strike each of the 20 possession of child pornography charges Berdoll is facing. Each of the 20 counts resulted from a search of Berdoll’s computers and hard drives on the day he was detained, Funke-Bilu argues.

In a response to the defense motions, Deputy District Attorney Lisa Muscari stated in a court filing that she plans to argue one detective shared information about the allegations against Berdoll with the other detective prior to the traffic stop, and there was probable cause to arrest the teacher. Likewise, Muscari wrote the search of Berdoll’s devices produced images of 16 girls dated between 2016 and Aug. 2018, and several of the girls who appeared in video’s were Berdoll’s students.

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