BROWARD

Video: School bus worker chokes autistic boy

 

The Oct. 9 incident left the child with small bruises on his neck, according to police. The boy’s mother said her son has deep and ongoing mental trauma.

 
A frame grab from surveillance video of a Broward bus attendant choking a 13-year-old autistic boy.
A frame grab from surveillance video of a Broward bus attendant choking a 13-year-old autistic boy.
BROWARD SHERIFF'S OFFICE

mrvasquez@MiamiHerald.com

After a 13-year-old autistic child wet his pants while riding on a Broward school bus, the bus attendant — whose job is to assist special-needs students — responded by choking the boy.

The incident, which lasted roughly 45 minutes, was captured by the school bus surveillance camera. Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies this week arrested bus attendant Darryl Blue, 48, on one count of aggravated child abuse. The bus driver who nonchalantly continued on her route, even as the boy screamed in pain, had not been charged Friday.

Neither Blue nor the bus driver have been fired by the school district, though both have been reassigned to “a position away from students,” said Broward school district spokeswoman Marsy Smith. The district is conducting an internal investigation before taking further action.

Blue has worked for the district on and off since 2000, while the driver is a recent hire still in the probationary phase of her employment.

BSO released the surveillance video Friday afternoon.

“It’s difficult to watch,” BSO spokeswoman Veda Coleman-Wright said. “It’s even more difficult to hear.”

The police report on Blue’s arrest describes some of the audio that can be heard on the tape: Blue apparently became infuriated when the child, having wet himself, reached out to touch him.

As Blue begins choking the child with a strap attached to his safety harness, the boy “was screaming for a large portion of the video while stating, “My neck,” “It hurts,” “You’re hurting me,”’ the report states.

The child’s protests did little to quell Blue’s anger, as the bus attendant is heard saying, “He won’t be this color when he gets home, he will be raspberry.”

Hearing that comment, bus driver Chelsi Edwards laughed heartily.

Only after the choking continued for several more minutes did Edwards begin to express concern.

“You’re choking him,” she told Blue.

“It should be noted,” the arrest report states. “That this child abuse by suspect Blue went on almost the entire time on the school bus.”

The Oct. 9 incident left the child with small bruises on his neck, according to police. The boy’s mother, Bertis Paulino, said her son has deep and ongoing mental trauma. Her formerly carefree honor roll student no longer wants to attend classes at Parkland’s Glades Middle School. Not only has his interest in school waned, but Paulino said her child is now frequently fearful — asking to sleep in his mother’s bed every night and reflexively putting his hands up in self-defense.

“He’s even afraid of me,” Paulino said. “I can’t function right now. I’m in so much pain that I’m numb.”

Paulino said her child is also demonstrating uncharacteristic moments of rage — breaking his laptop computer, setting a trash can on fire, and telling his mother she needs to “kill the man who hurt his neck.”

Paulino expressed frustration that neither Blue nor the bus driver have been fired, and she said a transportation supervisor she spoke to about the incident should also be fired. As Paulino was trying to get a copy of the surveillance video, that supervisor told her that the images on the video were “nothing of concern.”

“That means they’re protecting him,” Paulino said.

Linda Lewis, a representative with the employee union for Broward’s bus drivers, said the fact that law enforcement blocked out the child’s face — to protect his identity — left her unsure if the boy was really suffering.

“I can’t see it clearly that there’s being any abuse,” Lewis said. The child’s strap “may have been pulled a little too tight or something, I don’t know.”

Blue could not be reached for comment Friday, and a relative reached at a phone number registered to him said the family wouldn’t be commenting. When interviewed by police, Blue said he acted wrongly, and was “too tough” on the child, according to the arrest report.

The choking of a special-needs child is only the latest scandal to hit Broward’s long-troubled schools transportation department. The beginning of the school year was dramatically disrupted by widespread busing problems, including buses not showing up or arriving significantly late. In years past, the department was plagued by allegations of overspending, inefficiency, and rampant nepotism.

School Board member Katherine Leach — a former middle school teacher specializing in autistic students — said she’s “very concerned” about what happened in this case, and she said it’s time to reexamine the training Broward gives its employees when it comes to special-needs students.

Leach also called on Broward administrators to make sure that counseling is made available to the boy.

“Whatever supports that child and this family need, need to be put in place immediately,” Leach said.

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