Sex abuse charge against Edison hall monitor dismissed

URBANA — A Champaign County prosecutor on Friday dismissed a sex abuse charge filed in January against an Edison Middle School employee.

Herbert J. Howard, 27, a hall monitor at the middle school, was placed on paid administrative leave by the Unit 4 school district after being charged with aggravated criminal sexual abuse for allegedly fondling a 13-year-old girl at the school on Nov. 8.

State's Attorney Julia Rietz said the incident allegedly happened while the two were alone in an elevator of the school at 306 W. Green St., C.

Besides the girl's accusation, Rietz said, a teacher witnessed Howard and the girl alone in the elevator when the teacher got on and off the elevator.

Rietz said the decision was made to dismiss the charges after Assistant State's Attorney Troy Lozar met with the girl to prepare for trial.

"We dismissed the charges because we were concerned about the named victim's ability to testify at a trial," Rietz said. "We came to the conclusion that it would not be in her best interest to proceed."

Lozar said the girl's mother had "expressed concern about the emotional toll the case would take on her daughter."

"In cases where evidence could be characterized as somewhat equivocal, I like to give great deference to the victim," said Lozar.

Howard's attorney, Assistant Public Defender George Vargas, had issued a subpoena in February for the girl's school records. The school district, through its attorney Tommy Lockman, objected to that. At a March 10 hearing, Judge Tom Difanis explained to Lockman that Howard's attorney had a right to the records and set another hearing for Monday to give the district time to notify her parents.

The case was then dismissed on Friday by Lozar.

Unit 4 spokeswoman Stephanie Stuart said Howard, who had been employed by the school district for five years, remains on paid administrative leave.

"The district does its own investigation separate from any criminal charges. That's all I can comment on at this point," she said.

Stuart declined to say what the district's policy is on adult employees being alone in elevators with a student.

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