The state’s case against a bus driver who allegedly assaulted a 13-year-old autistic passenger has been pushed back to August after the defendant’s lawyer requested more time to prepare, leaving the victim’s family wondering if justice will ever be served.

Police and child protective services have labeled the Nov. 20, 2009 incident child abuse, which is a charge Christina Brocato already has on her criminal record. Now, Daniel Harris Sr. is wondering how Brocato was hired to drive his son, Daniel Harris Jr., and other students to school in the first place.

“Baltimore City is the one that certified the bus driver,” Harris Sr. said. “Baltimore City was negligent. They didn’t do a good background check, or they ignored it. I put in a recent e-mail asking how does the person get through the screening process but I got no response.”

Officials from Baltimore City Public Schools’ transportation department were unavailable at AFRO press time to explain the background screening and hiring process, and the BCPS Web site only offered that, “all school bus drivers are trained and certified by City Schools in accordance with the regulations of the Maryland State Department of Education and the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.”

BCPS CEO Andrés Alonso said the situation is still under investigation.

“I can’t comment on something I’m not too sure Baltimore City is involved in,” Alonso said. “I’m concerned whenever a parent tells me something hasn’t been done. If we see any evidence, someone will be losing their job.”

Brocato’s criminal history was first recorded on Oct. 26, 2003, when she was charged with child abuse of a minor, contributing to the condition of a child, and second degree assault. She pled guilty to the 2003 assault charge and was sentenced to probation after being convicted on July 12, 2004. Currently, she is facing two counts of second-degree assault after getting involved with a scuffle between Harris Jr. and his bus aide, Susan Nelson.

Harris Sr. said his son was strapped into his seat next to Nelson as Brocato drove the bus of special education students.

“The aide gave my son her scrunchy,” 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.”

Lt. Jim DeWees, of the Maryland State Police Golden Ring Barrack, said a surveillance tape clearly shows Nelson assault Harris Jr. According to the BCPS Web site, an aide is allowed to “help maintain proper discipline,” but DeWees said unnecessary restraint was used upon the teen.

At that point, DeWees said the tape “clearly” shows Brocato pull the bus over and immediately begin to assault Harris beyond acceptable reproach.

“She gets up and it appears as though she assists in the assault or restraining the child,” DeWees said. “It’s not like she comes and intervenes and tried to make peace with what was going on.”

District Court Judge G. Darrell Russell Jr. watched the tape and found Nelson not guilty after a 10-minute hearing, saying that Nelson was doing her job. A new judge will be appointed for Brocato’s case. Officials were unavailable to confirm why a new judge was assigned to replace Russell Jr. at AFRO press time, but Harris Sr. is pleased with the change.

“The judge ended up being removed,” he said. “Apparently they had a lot of complaints on this guy.”

Harris Sr. said he does not want to see Brocato go to jail, but wants to make sure she is not allowed to hurt anymore children. She has been terminated from her position since the incident.

 

MelanieR.Holmes

AFROStaffWriter