The lawsuit alleges the school district continued to retain Edwards as a teacher after receiving complaints/reports about his misconduct or potential misconduct and continued to allow him to be around children and also failed to properly police hallways to help prevent sexual harassment and molestation of students. It states that the district failed to acknowledge and act on complaints about Edwards and failed to recognize the signs that Edwards was a danger to students.
The family of the first victim of alleged sexual misconduct by an Osage middle school teacher is suing the 44-year-old Eldon man, the school district and the board of education on behalf of the girl.
Mark Edwards was arrested April 18, 2018 and has been charged with first degree statutory sodomy and felony sexual contact with a student. The victim is under the age of 14.
Edwards allegedly confessed to inappropriate contact with a student under questioning by Miller County Sheriff’s Office investigators and is being held at the Miller County jail on a $300,000 bond. His defense is requesting a bond reduction.
The father of the victim brought the lawsuit as a civil rights action, claiming a violation of his child’s Fourth and Fourth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution as well as claims from violation of Missouri law regarding assault, battery and sexual assault.
The suit argues that Edwards is a sexual predator who went unreported by the school district, claiming that there are not only other victims but also that the board and district were “deliberately indifferent” to Edwards being a sexual predator who was preying upon students and that that indifference was a conscious choice.
The petition states that the board and district were made aware of, or were deliberately indifferent to, his inappropriate conduct towards others, including students, thereby exposing children to or failing to protect them from, specifically the victim in this case, “state-created danger.”
The lawsuit alleges the district continued to retain Edwards as a teacher after receiving complaints/reports about his misconduct or potential misconduct and continued to allow him to be around children and also failed to properly police hallways to help prevent sexual harassment and molestation of students. It states that the district failed to acknowledge and act on complaints about Edwards and failed to recognize the signs that Edwards was a danger to students.
Since the initial charges were filed, a second victim has come forward, reporting an incident from April 2017. A third charge of third degree child molestation has been filed in the criminal case.
The school district issued a press release following Edwards arrest, stating that Edwards' arrest occurred through a cooperative investigation between law enforcement and the school district. The statement said the school received a report of suspicious behavior involving Edwards and made a hotline report to the Missouri Children’s Division. District officials also questioned Edwards themselves and immediately placed him on administrative leave while notifying local law enforcement.
In a phone interview with LakeNews, School of the Osage Superintendent Dr. Brent Depeé said the district had no previous concerns and had not had any previous reports about Edwards prior to making the April 2018 hotline call.
"We have turned the investigation over to Miller County. We have been and will continue to cooperate to insure that the truth comes out," he commented.
Depeé confirmed that Edwards resigned Sunday, April 23.
The petition also claims that district employees were not trained adequately to properly recognize and/or report sexual abuse, sexual harassment and sex crimes committed against students by Edwards, noting that Edwards used a pattern of behavior referred to as “grooming” to sexually harass and assault his victim during school hours and on school premises.
According to the petition, Edwards grabbed the child in a sexual manner in the school either in a classroom or hallway on April 9, 2018 and committed statutory sodomy April 17, 2018 on a school bus during a school-sanctioned field trip.
Grooming is a process of manipulation used by sexual predators to identify and gain access to a child, then gain the child’s trust to breakdown defenses and get away with engaging in the desired sex act.
Along these lines, the lawsuit alleges that Edwards had female students compete to be his favorite and would give female students answers to assignments and tests in exchange for inappropriate behavior with him. The petition also states that Edwards performed some of these grooming techniques via cell phone communication and attempted or actual video chats.
Because of Edwards’ alleged misconduct and the district’s alleged failure to protect the child from the internal sexual predator, the lawsuit seeks judgement against Edwards, the district and board for compensatory and punitive damages and court costs. The petition requests in excess of $25,000 per count. There are five counts in the lawsuit, four against Edwards and one against the district/board.
The petition explains that the victim suffered physical injuries and trauma that required medical attention and is suffering fear, embarrassment, emotional and mental distress, low self-esteem and inability to sleep as a result of what happened, impacting her health now and into the future.
“The injuries to her body and the great fear for her safety have caused Plaintiff [the child] pain of the mind as well as of the body and fear, apprehension, depression and consternation. Plaintiff has experienced pain and suffering,” the petition states.
The previous press release from the School of the Osage stated, “As always, the safety and security of all students is paramount to the district. Through extensive background checks beyond state requirements and consistent, ongoing staff training we are focused on keeping our kids safe and secure. When an employee breaks our trust, we do not hesitate to respond swiftly, effectively, and to the full extent of the law. In addition, we are thankful for our partnership with local law enforcement and child advocacy agencies.”