Suit, employee: school system was warned about principal charged in sex crimes

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David Edwards was charged in an 11-count indictment alleging multiple sex crimes against three male students, including Doe's son. (WTVD)

Several allegations against the Cumberland County Board of Education and one its former middle school principals, claim the board was aware that the principal was a threat to students long before he resigned from his post.

Records from the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department also support the claim, showing the principal was investigated for alleged molestation six years prior to his resignation, and the criminal charges that eventually followed.

"It could have been stopped," said Jane Doe, the mother of one of the alleged victims. "It didn't have to get as far as it did."

The mother is referred to as Jane Doe for the purpose of this story and a recently filed a civil suit against the board and former Douglas Byrd Middle School principal David Edwards.

In exclusive interviews with Eyewitness News, both Doe and Orner Walker, a former Ramsey Street employee, tell us the system was warned at least once about Edwards' behavior because Walker expressed his concerns in 2007.

"All I know is the kids....we should have done a better job (protecting them)," said Walker.

CRIMINAL CHARGES

Edwards was charged in an 11-count indictment alleging multiple sex crimes against three male students, including Doe's son. Those indictments were filed in March, and the criminal charges cover the years 2009-2013, during Edwards' tenure as principal at Ramsey Street Alternative School and Douglas Byrd Middle School.

Edwards was charged with several crimes, including taking indecent liberties with a child and crimes against nature, in October 2013. He abruptly resigned from the school system two months earlier. At the time, a school spokeswoman said Edwards went away for "educational reasons," and the school was unaware of the pending investigation.

A Cumberland County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman said last week that Edwards had been investigated for molestation in light of four claims made against him in August 2007, again in 2011 for two other accusations, and finally in 2013. The latter investigation led to the aforementioned charges.

In each case, authorities said they had to notify the school system of the investigations because of Edwards' position.

"IT COULD HAVE BEEN STOPPED"

Doe said she and her son were called into Edwards' office at Ramsey Street Alternative during the summer of 2009. She said Edwards told her the boy was failing the 7th grade, and needed to stay at Ramsey Street for another 45 days to catch up and pass grades.

"It was like, if you didn't pass a grade, how could you make it up in 45 days," Doe recalled. "Now it seems strange, but at the time, I thought he (Edwards) was really trying to help."

Doe described Edwards as a father-figure to the male students. In 2009, she was a single parent who trusted Edwards.

"He was reassuring about my son's progress...and he was a pastor," she said. "He would say things like 'Let me take care of him,' and 'I got his back.'"

Doe said during that summer meeting, Edwards asked her to excuse herself from his office, so he could talk "man-to-man" with her son, and "get him straight."

Doe's son would eventually transfer to Douglas Byrd Middle the following school year, and Edwards was re-assigned to the same school as principal.

But it wasn't until four-and-a-half years, and a string of behavioral issues, later that Doe said her son admitted he'd been abused by Edwards.

In January of 2013, the Does, including the boy's stepfather, had a blow-out family meeting.

"He just exploded and said 'You don't know what I've been through,'" Doe recalled.

That night I said 'Well... what have you been through? And when he said it, he said 'Well, I've been molested.' And then he went out the back door."

"One of the first things he told me, when he came back into the house was 'Ma, you remember when we went back up to the school and we were talking to Dr. Edwards about why I didn't pass? He was like 'that was the first time it happened.'"

In tears, Doe remembered her reply to her son, "I said 'Well I was there. I was there.'"

Doe said she has few details about what her son eventually told investigators and counselors he went through.

"He's never told me. He's never told me," she said shaking her head. "He took him in the bathroom. I do know that much."

Edwards is set to appear again in court next month as a part of a scheduling process. He's expected to enter a plea in the early fall.

MORE VICTIMS AND A CIVIL SUIT

Lisa Lanier, the attorney representing Doe and a second victim's family, believes more boys may have been molested by Edwards.

"The more I learned about it, the more I realized it was just the tip of the iceberg," said Lanier. "I want to uncover every possible witness, every possible victim, because these boys are out there and they're hurting."

Lanier said she is still not able to find out what happened to the two boys who came forward with claims in 2011. No criminal charges resulted from that investigation. Her firm is gathering statements from people who worked close to Edwards in the school and suspected misbehavior.

"I think we're dealing with multiple victims," she said. "I'm aware of three victims presently who are a part of the criminal proceeding. I'm aware of two other victims who came forward in the past, and I'm aware of a child who was molested years ago, whose come forward and given us a statement."

"And this stuff went on right under everyone's nose," continued Lanier, who describes the purpose of the suit as a push to change Board policy regarding supervision and oversight of personnel working in the schools.

In a civil suit representing Doe's family, Orner Walker said he sought the advice of former Ramsey Street principal Mary Owens, who directed him to Edwards' supervisor at the Board of Education.

Walker was a 12-year employee of the system who worked in grant-funded position overseeing the HOPE program. His job duties including mentoring troubled students at Ramsey Street, where he said he noticed Edwards' intimate and seemingly inappropriate interaction with male students.

"Kids get in trouble, the male students, and they don't get suspended or nothing," said Walker. "He just might put his arm around them and walk down there and talk to them and bring 'em on back to class."

"It just didn't look right that every time you turn around, he was talking to the male students when we got female students, also."

Walker said he confronted Edwards about it in 2007, who in turn, became upset with the allegations.

"I mean we was friends," he said. "It was just 'Let me go talk to this dude and see what's going on.' I mean, I just went to talk to him. It wasn't no, try to mess him up or destroy him or discredit him. I went to him as a friend, but then the way he reacted then, right then, I was like 'okay.....'"

Walker said he then followed Owens' advice and visited the Board to speak with an administrator, who in turn told Walker he would "look into" the situation.

"I never heard back," said Walker.

Instead, Walker said he found himself in trouble. Weeks after reporting Edwards to the Board, Walker said Edwards came to him with an ultimatum- "resign or get fired."

This came after Walker said he broke up a school fight, and was subsequently told by Edwards that he and the Board agreed Walker should resign in light of pending charges.

"Somehow it got turned around (that) I used too much force to stop the fight," said Walker. "It did go to court, and charges were dropped... and I'd already resigned."

Court records confirm those simple assault charges were dropped on July 11, 2007, and Walker's case was dismissed.

Walker went on to start his own business, and did not hear anything else about Edwards until August 2013, when Eyewitness News broke the news of his resignation, and the sexual abuse investigation.

"When it came out, I had a few people calling me, (saying) 'Did you hear? Walker, after 6 years ago, you was right.'"

Walker also said he suspects more victims from Ramsey St., but he doesn't believe they'd be quick to come forward.

"The kids that we dealt with, you know, these are kids from the hard side of town," he said. "How that gonna make you look to say 'Hey Man, you let a man touch you, and you didn't do nothing about it?'"

A second civil suit is expected to be filed in Cumberland County Superior Court on behalf of another family whose son is named an alleged victim in the criminal case.

In Doe's case, Lanier said the Board added insult to injury when they transferred the boy back to Ramsey Street following his report of molestation. During that time earlier this year, she said he had a panic attack in a classroom where alleged molestation occurred years prior. Lanier said the event has led Doe to drop out of high school during his senior year.

Through tears, Doe's mother said she is hoping therapy heals her son's visible and invisible wounds.

"Just therapy, and continue with that....and hopefully one day (pause) he can put it behind him."

Edwards declined to comment without his attorney, James Parish. Parish has not returned calls regarding the case, but in October of 2013, following Edwards' first court appearance, he said the allegations would be proven false.

David Phillips, the attorney for the Cumberland County School Board, also declined to speak on pending litigation. The school administrator named in the suit has not returned a message regarding this story.

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