Sunday, April 14

‘These cases are very difficult:’ State attorney explains why charges were dropped against school staffers

WPTV is learning more about why the State Attorney’s Office dropped charges against five former Palm Beach Central High School employees accused of not reporting a suspected case of sexual assault between two students off campus.

Former Palm Beach Central principal Darren Edgecomb was expected to be in court Monday to stand trial.

But instead, WPTV learned late Friday that the State Attorney’s Office will no longer prosecute the case, saying new developments and evidence made it impossible for them to move forward.

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This case dates back to an off campus incident between two Palm Beach Central High School students in April of 2021.

Five school employees were arrested nearly a year and a half later in July of 2023, accused of knowing about the alleged sexual assault incident and not reporting it to the Florida Department of Children and Families as required by law.

The State Attorney’s Office said that while it does not regret filing the charges, it said several factors led to this decision, including the victim not being able to remember certain details of the incident.

“We don’t regret our decision to pursue justice here,” state attorney Dave Aronberg said Monday. “It’s just that sometimes, when new developments come out, new evidence comes out, it makes it impossible for us to move forward.”

Prosecutors also said there are flaws in the policies and procedures that school employees must follow, and that the reporting requirements when allegations involve two students are unclear.

“It was a righteous prosecution because there was evidence that the individuals here did not report,” Aronberg said. “Under the law, they are supposed to report the sexual assault. But the victim in the case subsequently has had some memory issues and it will make it nearly impossible to prosecute the case.”

“Did we have a good faith basis to file? Absolutely,” chief assistant state attorney Al Johnson said Monday. “And we also feel that at the time last week, after the depositions and the discovery and the additional information, we no longer had that good faith basis. And we have to do that. That’s our job. That’s our ethical responsibility. If we have to drop a case, we will drop a case.”

We don’t know yet how this will impact the employees’ jobs moving forward.

All were reassigned to positions away from students. The State Attorney’s Office said the victim’s family agreed with its decision.

“This decision was made in conjunction with the victim’s family,” Aronberg said. “We don’t want to put the victim through something so traumatic to victimize her again. These cases are very difficult and we did not take this decision lightly.”

When asked about the status of the employees involved, the School District of Palm Beach County told WPTV its Department of Professional Standards continues to investigate the matter at this time.

In regards to policies and procedures referenced by the State Attorney’s Office, the school district released this written statement to WPTV:

“The School District of Palm Beach Countys policy requires that employees who are aware of any abuse to immediately report it to the Florida Department of Children and Families. All School District of Palm Beach County employees complete mandatory training, ‘Identifying and Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect,’ provided by the Florida Department of Children and Families. This course is for teachers of grades kindergarten through 12, and it satisfies the requirement specified section 1012.98(12) of the Florida Statutes (F.S.)”

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