WELLINGTON, Fla. — The principal of Palm Beach Central High School in Wellington is fighting to have a criminal charge against him dismissed in a high-profile case involving the suspected sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl more than two years ago.
An attorney for Darren Edgecomb, 59, on Nov. 30 filed a motion to dismiss the failure to report sexual abuse charge against his client.
The motion argued that Edgecomb received a "second-hand report" about the suspected sexual assault from the 15-year-old girl's friend, who was not present during the alleged crime and "had no personal knowledge of the underlying incident."
Because of that, the principal did not have any useful information to immediately report the accusations to the Florida Department of Children and Families' central abuse hotline, the motion said.
The filing added that Edgecomb launched his own investigation, per school district policy, interviewed all the students involved, and met with the 15-year-old girl's parents before eventually making a report to the hotline.
Edgecomb's attorney also argued that state law does not define a timeline for when failing to report becomes a crime.
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According to a Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office incident report, the son of Palm Beach Central High School assistant principal Daniel Snider, 49, whose third-degree felony charge was dismissed by Circuit Court Judge Scott Suskauer on Nov. 22, allegedly sexually assaulted a girl on Lake Worth Beach on April 2, 2021.
More than four months later, on Aug. 16, 2021, a friend of the 15-year-old girl went to Snider directly, saying the teen had told her about the incident.
That friend, according to Edgecomb's motion, was a "non-witness reporter" who was not present at the beach on April 2.
Snider on Aug. 16 brought the teen's friend to Edgecomb, who "immediately commenced an investigation" by interviewing the friend and telling her to give a written statement.
The motion stated that, at the time, Edgecomb did not know who the 15-year-old girl or her friend were, but he did know Snider's son.
Edgecomb told Snider that the assistant principal could no longer be involved in the investigation, per school district policy.
One day later, on Aug. 17, 2021, Edgecomb brought the 15-year-old alleged victim to his office to take her statement, where she informed the principal she had not told her parents about the incident. The motion claimed that Edgecomb then immediately contacted them, told them about the allegations, and arranged to meet with them two days later, on Aug. 19, 2021.
On Aug. 18, Edgecomb took an official statement from Snider's son.
Then on Aug. 19, Edgecomb met with the alleged victim's parents, then contacted the School District of Palm Beach County's Legal Department to "confirm the course of action to be taken," before reporting the accusations to DCF's central abuse hotline.
Edgecomb's motion to dismiss argued that, when first presented with the allegations from the 15-year-old girl's friend on Aug. 16, he did not have "reasonable cause to suspect" that a sexual assault had taken place, as the State Attorney's Office claims.
The motion added the girl's friend "was not a witness to the alleged incident," and thus Edgecomb started his own investigation to gather more information before reporting the allegations to DCF three days later.
"It would be contrary to sound judgment and productivity to make a report of allegations not based upon knowledge, reason, or reasonable cause," the motion said, adding that by conducting his own investigation first, "EDGECOMB's 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."
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John Howe, Edgecomb's attorney, released the following written statement to WPTV on Tuesday about the motion to dismiss:
"The motion to dismiss, I believe, clearly sets forth the current state of the law and the prudence exercised by Mr. Edgecomb in handling a very sensitive matter involving two of the over 3,000 students entrusted to his care. The undisputed facts stated in the motion also describe the perilous atmosphere that this case now presents for school administrators across the state of Florida."
Edgecomb, Snider, and three other Palm Beach Central High School staffers — assistant principal Nereyda Cayado De Garcia, 58, chorus teacher Scott Houchins, 53, and school behavioral therapist Priscilla Carter, 55 — were all arrested on July 24 for failure to report sexual abuse.
All the defendants have pleaded not guilty and have been reassigned to positions away from students.
Snider's son was never arrested or charged in the case because, ultimately, the 15-year-old girl's father did not want to pursue criminal charges against the boy, and instead wanted his daughter to focus on her mental health, well-being, and recovery.