Father files $20 million lawsuit against school board after obtaining video

-A A +A

Video shows aide, bus driver abusing student on bus

By Tom Wilmoth

    The father of an autistic child in Bedford County has filed a $20 million lawsuit against the Bedford County School Board, the director of special services and a bus driver and aide, alleging that his 12-year-old son was physically abused while riding a Bedford County bus in 2009.


    A video of the morning and afternoon bus ride on Sept. 24, 2009, shows the aide and bus driver hitting the boy, Timothy Earl Kilpatrick, with a fly swatter, kicking him and spraying him with an aerosol can. Both were convicted of misdemeanor charges in 2009 in connection with the incident.
    The video (portions of which can be viewed at the Bulletin Web site, www.bedfordbulletin.com) shows the boy strapped into double harnesses at his seat, and crying out several times. He also is shown, at times, using his arms and legs in an attempt to defend himself or strike back at the two women.
    In a statement at last Thursday’s school board meeting, School Superintendent Dr. Douglas Schuch called the video associated with the bus ride “very disturbing.”
    “The lawsuit has not been served on the school board, and we do not have any comment on the allegations,” Dr. Schuch stated. “However, we can confirm that as soon as school officials became aware of the incident on the bus, the two individual employees involved were dismissed and the matter was referred to the police.”

The criminal charges
    Alice Davis Holland, the bus driver, was convicted of misdemeanor assault and battery on Nov. 18, 2009, in Lynchburg Juvenile and    Domestic   Relations  Court.

She received a 12-month sentence, with 11 months of that suspended. Holland was employed with the school system from Nov. 1, 1989 through Sept. 30, 2009.
    Mary Alice Evans, a special education bus aide, was also convicted in J & D Court of misdemeanor assault and battery. She received a 12-month sentence with all but two months suspended. Evans was employed with the school system from Sept. 7, 1999, through Sept. 30, 2009.
    Both had also been charged with felony child abuse, but those charges were not prosecuted by the Lynchburg Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office. A call to that office was not returned.
    The bus was used to transport Timothy from and to his home in Bedford to the Laurel Regional Program School in Lynchburg, which specializes in the education of disabled students. The boy’s father now transports Timothy to and from the school.
    Information included in a police report, supplied to the Bulletin by the lawyer who filed the case, stated Thomas Kilpatrick served as a mediator for his son while being interviewed by police about the 2009 incidents. It stated that Timothy became agitated during the interview and that his father said “he is not normally like this and since this incident has occurred he has difficulty trusting strangers.”
    The report stated there was “an impressive bruise” on Timothy’s right forearm as well as some bruising and scratch-style markings on his right throat area below his chin. The report also stated there was a “U” shaped bruise “that appears to be stretched from shoulder to shoulder” and scratching on the front of the right shoulder.

The lawsuit
    The lawsuit was filed in Lynchburg Circuit Court last Tuesday by Timothy Kilpatrick’s father, Thomas Earl Kilpatrick. According to Kilpatrick’s attorney, the delay in filing the lawsuit was because of the time it took to obtain video evidence from the Lynchburg Police.
    “He had not seen the video,” Attorney P. Brent Brown of Roanoke, said of his Timothy’s father. Once the video was obtained, the lawsuit was filed.
    The lawsuit names the Bedford County School Board, Sara Staton, Alice Holland and Mary Evans as the defendants. Brown said the case has also been joined by the Virginia Office of Protection and Advocacy, an agency which seeks to oversee the rights of disabled individuals.
    The lawsuit alleges that in November 2008, Timothy Kilpatrick, then 11, was being physically abused by employees of the school system, and that the abuse was brought to the attention of the school system. The lawsuit notes that Kilpatrick’s mental disability impaired his ability to communicate about the abuse.
    The lawsuit states that a case worker for the boy, in 2008, brought the abuse to the attention of the school system, stating “Timothy came into school yesterday with marks on his face, but the bus driver (Holland) has not turned in any tapes since Tuesday so Debbie has yet to review any new tapes.”
    Then, on February 25, 2009, the lawsuit states that Timothy’s father reported that his son got off the school bus (operated by Holland) with “scratches on his head and a swollen body spot.” The lawsuit states that Kilpatrick requested “immediate remedial action to protect his son while on the school bus,” and that the issue was brought to the attention of Staton, the director of special services for BCPS.
    The lawsuit states that the school system continued to allow the bus driver access to Timothy Kilpatrick “even after having reason to know that Timothy was in imminent danger of serious physical and emotional injury.”
    The lawsuit also alleges that an “untrained, adult relative” of the bus driver was being permitted access to the child on the school bus. It also states that the videotapes from the Nov. 14, 2008, alleged incident on the bus were not turned in, located or preserved.
    But later video tapes did become available to police, from Sept. 23, 2009, and Sept. 24, 2009.
    The lawsuit notes that the special education bus is equipped with double shoulder seat restraints and that Timothy was strapped in and held in place using those restraints. “These school bus restraints were used to hold Timothy … in place during transport to facilitate abusive special education school bus passenger supervision through repeated and systematic blows about Timothy’s head, face and body” with a fly swatter and with the bus driver and aide’s hands.
    “Timothy was also repeatedly kicked about his lower body by the special education school bus aide,” it states, adding that “the school bus aide also sprayed Timothy in or about his face with an aerosol chemical.”
    The lawsuit goes on to state that when the boy began “screaming in agony and despair from the repeated physical and emotional abusive supervision” the bus driver stopped the bus and received a glove from the school bus aide.
    The lawsuit states: “The special education school bus driver put on the white glove given to her by the special education aide and using the special education bus seat restraints to aide in holding him in place..., began to choke and asphyxiate Timothy in an apparent effort to stop and/or control crying which was apparently perceived by the special education bus driver to be unduly disturbing the aide, the school bus driver and others on the bus.” It also states that the choking left bruising on the boy’s throat, which was also observed by the Lynchburg Police.
    It states that the restraints were used to prevent the boy’s “attempted self protection from the abusive supervision.” The lawsuit alleges those occurred on both Sept. 23 and Sept. 24, 2009.
    The lawsuit states that the school system failed to act on the prior reports of abuse which amounted to a “cover-up,” especially in light of repeated inquiries by the child’s father and the child’s case manager “who on several occasions attempted unsuccessfully to have investigative and remedial action taken.” It stated that the failure and negligence to take action “was such as would shock fair-minded people.”
    The lawsuit states that Timothy should receive “full, safe and equal access to the noneducational benefits of the bus transportation program” offered by the school system. It further states that the school board and the school system’s employees failed to take action to protect Timothy. It is seeking $20 million in compensatory damages from all four defendants and $500,000 in punitive damages from Holland and Evans.

Bus regulations
    According to Ryan Edwards, public relations coordinator for Bedford County Public Schools, there is no law requiring buses to have video monitoring capabilities on board.  Edwards said the equipment on BCPS buses varies in age and recording capacity and bus video is not archived.
    In response to a question on having non-school adults on board a school bus, Edwards referred to a handbook on school bus driver responsibilities that states the driver of a school bus “shall see that no one other than authorized passengers ride the bus.”
    The school system referred questions about the lawsuit to the school board’s attorney.