Just days before jury selection was set to begin, Broward prosecutors dismissed aggravated child abuse charges against a Cooper City couple on Friday, according to Broward officials.
Having lost their children to foster care, their jobs with the Broward County School District, their home to foreclosure and their car to repossession, Darren Jones, 44, and his wife Serena, 43, faced state prison time for the alleged beating of their 16-year-old daughter in early 2011.
"We believed that the Lord would vindicate us," Darren Jones told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in a telephone interview late Friday. "This was just a light affliction. I have no right to be angry at one solitary person."
His wife, Serena, agreed.
Appearing Friday morning before Broward County Circuit Court Judge Andrew Siegel, prosecutors Tony Loe and Hussein Sony El Rashidy did not explain their decision not to pursue charges against the couple when entering a “Nolle Prosequi” or dismissal of charges.
A review of the Broward court docket reveals a very active criminal defense of the couple with joint representation by Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney Eric Schwartzreich.
“Darren and Serena Jones are gone from the courtroom and should be returned to the classroom,” stated Schwartzreich. “They are both extraordinary educators and deserve to be restored to their respective positions. They are both well respected and pillars of their community.”
Darren Jones, a former principal at Hallandale High School, was originally arrested by the Broward Sheriff’s Office on January 15, 2011, accused of beating his eldest daughter with an electrical cord, causing scars and bruising on her arms, legs, back and hands, according to a police report.
Serena Jones, a teacher at Driftwood Middle School in Hollywood, was arrested on the same charge two months later, though investigators said her role in the incident was a failure to protect her daughter.
In presenting a united front, the long married educators retained the same lawyer as an indication of solidarity and innocence.
"I've always believed this was a case of corporal punishment and not child abuse," indicated Schwartzreich. "There's a big difference between them.”
Schwartzreich said the charges destroyed the Joneses. Darren was fired from the school district while Serena was placed on unpaid suspension. The couple was forced to relinquish their children to foster care, they lost their home to foreclosure and their car to repossession.
“It’s not often that prosecutors can see the trees through the forest,” concluded Schwartzreich. “In the end, prosecutors Tony Loe and Hussein Sony El Rashidy should be commended for their courageous and honest decision in dropping all charges.”
School district spokeswoman Nadine Drew told the Sun-Sentinel that dismissal of criminal charges would now allow the district to conduct its own investigation to determine whether the couple are entitled to reinstatement to their former positions.