Autistic Student Allegedly Assaulted on Bus

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Alleged physical abuse of a 13-year-old student on a Baltimore County school bus has caused a continuous court battle between the state of Maryland and the defendants involved.

On Nov. 20, 2009, Daniel Harris Jr., a student with autistic spectrum disease, was handled by bus driver Christina Brocato and bus aide LaToya Wilson in a manner, which the student’s father characterized as assault.

“The aide gave my son her [hair] scrunchy,” Daniel Harris Sr. said. “He started playing with it because it’s made out of elastic material. He started trying to unravel it and she slapped him and that set him off. He became uncontrollable at that point. That’s where it started.”

However, District Court Judge Darrell Russell Jr. said a surveillance tape shows nothing more than attempts at maintaining order on the bus.

A letter written by Lori Mazan, operator and safety supervisor of Durham School Services, seems to support that claim. Mazan stated Harris got out of his harness and ran to the front of the bus, while it was on Interstate 83.

“The driver had to swing [her] arm across the aisle way so that he couldn't get to the door,” Mazan wrote in the letter to a colleague. “Daniel then jumped into the first seat behind the driver, found a pair of scissors and, as the driver expressed it ‘had to be disarmed.’”

Mr. Harris said Brocato pulled the bus over and got on top of his son, at which point the boy spit on the driver. “He was defending himself,” he said. “She was not supposed to do that.”

Harris was called to come pick his son up from school and had to drive his son to school for two months after the incident. Child Protective Services reviewed the surveillance tape and alerted the police, which sparked an investigation. Since then, the driver and aide have been fired and Harris is back on the bus.

Russell tossed Wilson’s case on March 11 and is scheduled to hear Brocato’s case on May 19. If she is found not guilty, her job would be reinstated.

“I don’t want to see that woman go to jail,” Harris said. “I just want to see her get a guilty plea so she can stay the heck off of these buses and not do that to another child again.”

Look for continuing coverage in future editions of the AFRO.