For the first time, WPTV is hearing from the attorney representing former Palm Beach Central High School principal Darren Edgecomb, who was arrested on July 24, 2023 and accused of failing to report a suspected case of sexual assault.
At a motion hearing Wednesday, defense attorney John Howe will argue in court to have the charge against Edgecomb, a career educator, dismissed.
With Edgecomb by his side Tuesday, Howe spoke only with WPTV education reporter Stephanie Susskind about why he says his client did exactly what he was supposed to do.
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The alleged sexual assault at the center of this case involved two Palm Beach Central High School students who were both 15 at the time off-campus back on April 2, 2021.
The State Attorney’s Office said that, more than three months later, on Aug. 16 of that year, then-principal Edgecomb received a statement from a different student about the possible crime.
That student was the 15-year-old girl’s friend and was not present during the alleged incident.
Prosecutors said Edgecomb should have made a report right away to the Florida Department of Children of Families, which is required by law when a person has knowledge or reasonable cause to suspect that sexual abuse has occurred.
The argument from the State Attorney’s Office said that “reporting cases of abuse to DCF is what gets the ball rolling, not what wraps up a case. Further, it is not his place (nor was it any administrator’s) to conduct an in-depth investigation into this matter.”
“Oh, it was his duty to investigate,” Howe told Susskind on Tuesday.
Howe sees it differently than prosecutors and argues that Edgecomb followed school district policy when he launched an investigation into what happened and began interviewing those involved.
Howe said the principal didn’t have enough information on Aug. 16, 2021 to immediately report the allegations to authorities, and did, in fact, report to DCF three days later, on Aug. 19.
“It wouldn’t have been possible for the crime charged to be committed because he had no knowledge or reasonable basis for suspecting that any particular thing had happened,” Howe said. “He did actually make a report one year, 11 months, and five days before they showed up and charged him with failure to report something that he did actually report.”
Howe added that “we’re confident, based on the undisputed facts that we have here, there’s no showing that a crime was committed. And that’s what will be presented to the court.”
In addition, the attorney told Susskind that “what could be perceived as the biggest danger is the chilling effect this could have on administrators like Mr. Edgecomb, who are doing their job and going to work every day seeking to educate and protect all of the students under their charge. And the fact that you can do everything that you are required to do under school district policy and still end up with your reputation tarnished, your career to be placed in jeopardy over something that you were required to do and you actually did do years after the fact. And that’s really the slippery slope that a case like this presents.”
Edgecomb’s motion to dismiss also said his actions “are more reflective of one exercising sound judgment, fairness, and sensibility, as opposed to making a call to the central abuse hotline with no information which would be necessary for DCF to provide support or services.”
It also stated that “if the State has an issue with the timeframe in which EDGECOMB made the call to the abuse hotline, that issue must rest with Floridas legislature to take action to more clearly define the actual time frame beyond which failing to report will constitute a crime.”
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Edgecomb, assistant principal Daniel Snider, assistant principal Nereyda Cayado De Garcia, chorus teacher Scott Houchins, and school behavioral therapist Priscilla Carter were all arrested on July 24, 2023 for failure to report sexual abuse.
Snider successfully fought to have his charge dismissed late last year.