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Attorney requests tougher charges in alleged CPS student assault

A local attorney is requesting charges against a former Columbia Public Schools employee be increased.

Thomas Edwards was arrested on suspicion of fourth-degree assault and fired from his position at Columbia Public Schools early last year after allegations emerged that he inappropriately touched a middle school student with a disability.

According to TGH Litigation attorney Julianne Germinder, who represents the student, the current misdemeanor charge would allow Edwards to “get away with his sexual assault” of her client and that there is enough evidence of the sexual assault to support higher charges.

In a letter to assistant prosecuting attorney Tracy Gonzalez, Germinder requests that the charges against Edwards be increased to felonies: third-degree child molestation, sexual contact with a student, sexual misconduct involving a child and/or sexual abuse in the first degree.

“Mr. Edward’s actions have had devastating effects on the minor victim and will continue to affect [them] for years to come,” Germinder wrote in the letter. “Mr. Edwards targeted the minor victim in [their] special education class at Oakland Middle School where he was entrusted to help [them].”

According to the probable cause statement, Edwards placed his hand under the child’s clothing and touched his/her buttock. The alleged incident would have happened sometime between August 2015 and February 2017 at Oakland Middle School.

The victim’s family has also filed a suit on their behalf against the Columbia Public Schools, Principal Helen Porter, and Edwards for the sexual assault.

Edwards worked in the Columbia School District for more than 10 years, first as a paraprofessional and later as a classroom aide.

CPS spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark did not confirm Wednesday if parents have been told about the incident, but she said the school district “has taken all measures to ensure the safety of every student.”

“School district officials and law enforcement officials have been and will continue to communicate directly with those individuals involved in the investigation,” she said in an email.

In 2015, Edwards was accused of sexual assault of a similar nature by another student, but investigators determined the case was unfounded.

ABC17 News reached out to Edward’s attorney, William Hamilton, who said he had no comment about the request to increase charges against his client.

ABC17 News is waiting to hear back from Gonzalez about the request.

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