JACKSONVILLE, Fla — A scathing grand jury report says the former chief of police at Duval County Schools intentionally hid and downplayed crimes in an effort to mask the problem.
The district blamed a 'technical glitch' for the error but the report alleges that's not what exactly happened.
Michael Edwards resigned early last year after a preliminary report blasted the district for quote “outright fraud” in reporting crime statistics.
The new statewide grand jury report says Edwards’ actions resulted in more than 2,000 misreported incidents on school grounds.
The grand jury didn’t hold back in this report, calling Edwards’ conduct quote “absolutely criminal” and “a shocking disregard for student safety.” But due to what the grand jury called a quirk in Florida law, there will be no charges filed against him.
The report says between 2016 and 2020, Edwards directed officers not to treat incidents of battery on a school employee as a crime. If the victim chose not to press charges, the report says Edwards told the officers to file an information report and close the case instead of an offense report.
This is against the law.
After reviewing more than 2,600 of those information reports, the grand jury found the majority were felonies and not one of them was treated as a crime.
In one instance, someone who appeared to be a student was seen placing a gun in a backpack and entering a school near the end of the day. An officer asked for the school to be locked down, but the report says Edwards refused because parents gathering for pickup might be alarmed.
Duval County Public Schools says it has worked with the Department of Education after Edward’s resignation and is confident in its current procedures and requested that its current procedures. In a statement DCPS said: “It should be clear to families and the community that we: self-reported the errors, corrected both errors and our procedures and requested that the Office of Safe Schools review our policies and procedures to ensure compliance with state law.”
The grand jury report considered multiple criminal charges including solicitation of official misconduct, which is a felony, and falsifying records, a misdemeanor. In the end, no charges were filed.
“Instead of the formal charges being filed, this gentleman was given a diversionary program. So it looked like probably those charges are not going to be filed because he was diverted from the criminal justice system,” Attorney Curtis Fallgatter said.
The grand jury cited a “quirk” of Florida law that prevented them from issuing an indictment.
“Maybe there's something that caused him to think well, we should give him a little bit of a break as a first time offender,” Fallgatter siad.
Edwards’ attorney, David Barksdale replied to our request for comment and said:
“In any event, the Grand Jury’s Final Report reports that the Office of Statewide Prosecution will not bring formal charges against Mr. Edwards. Mr. Edwards has devoted 36 years of his life to protecting and serving the citizens of Duval County. He is thankful for all the support he has received during this journey. He is proud of his 36 years of law enforcement service to our community.”
The grand jury says it will advise the legislature to correct the issue in the future.