In the aftermath of an altercation on a Denver Public Schools bus in Park Hill on Wednesday, September 18, multiple parents say their children reported their bus driver inappropriately touching a student, calling them names and threatening undue punishment. The chaos that followed led to an arrest — not of the driver or his assistant, but of a 32-year-old parent, Brandi Martin, who got into a physical fight with the bus driver and his assistant after she tried to climb on board to reach her child.
Denver Public Schools is investigating the incident, spokesperson Will Jones wrote in an email to Westword. In a letter she sent to parents today, September 23, Superintendent Susana Cordova apologized for the incident. "I have reviewed our internal video taken from inside the bus," she wrote. "An investigation is still underway, but it’s clear this situation never should have escalated to the point that it did."
Denver Police said the following in a statement of probable cause for arrest: “Officers came into contact with both victims, who related that they were driving a school bus, when some of the children on the bus had become unruly. … At that time, some of the parents had become alerted to a disturbance and arrived to see what was happening. At that time, the defendant had entered the back of the bus, where the Emergency Exit is located, and then attacked both the driver and the driver's assistant.”
A video posted on social media on September 22 by a parent who was at the scene has parents questioning that story. At the beginning of the video, parents are crowded around the back of the bus, where two employees, who appear to be older white men, are standing and blocking the open emergency exit. Children can be heard crying and screaming, among other things, “Help me! Please let me out! Get out of my way!” Parents can be seen beckoning their children, who are blocked from exiting. A few minutes in, a black woman in a pink shirt attempts to enter the bus and climb over the seat. In the video, it appears that she punches the driver in the face several times, but he also pushes her forcefully onto the seat and repeatedly pulls her by her hair, head and waist.
The bus, which shuttled middle-schoolers back and forth from brand-new Denver Green School in Northfield, had already had problems following a consistent route in the first few weeks of school, said one parent, Qaedah Perron, in a video she posted to social media explaining what happened. Janeel Williams, another parent, says her son Jakhi had reported that he previously got easily exasperated with kids.
Though the details about Wednesday's incident are not entirely clear, parents and the district have both said that trouble began when an aide on the bus confronted a group of students about "behavior that the aide felt was too loud and disruptive," as Cordova wrote in her letter to parents. The bus driver pulled over twice; Perron says she was already getting texts from her daughter saying that the driver was screaming at the students. According to Perron, the driver then put the blame for the incident on Perron's daughter. When she began recording the altercation on her phone, the driver tried to pull the phone away from her.
"He grabbed [my daughter's] hand and pushed her down by her shoulder and ran his hand across her breast," Perron says.
Williams says her son and others started protesting that the bus driver was touching her inappropriately. "Jakhi said her dad probably wouldn't even touch her like that," Williams says.
As the bus remained outside of Hallet Science and Tech Academy, kids began calling parents and relatives, who flocked to the bus. Perron was one; she says she heard kids crying and screaming when she arrived. "He stopped and held the children there for twenty minutes before anybody was contacted," Perron says.
As parents gathered outside of the bus, "they all tried to ask what's going on. [The bus staff] wouldn't say anything. They wouldn't speak to any parent," Perron says.
"The driver and paraprofessional must ensure that they only release kids to their parents. The driver and paraprofessional say that they were trying to explain this to the parents so that they could release the kids," DPS spokesperson Jones wrote.
Williams was still upset about the bus staff members' lack of communication; they should have followed protocol and contacted the school if there was an issue so they could send text messages to parents informing them that their children would be late. "Everything could have been resolved basically by him contacting the school," she says.
But that never happened, and the situation escalated.
According to Perron, increasingly worried parents helped some of the kids open the emergency exit door. Perron had already called 911.
That's about where the video recording of the altercation between the bus driver and Martin starts. By the time it ended, police had arrived.
"Police questioned [bus drivers], and determined that they were the victims," Williams says. EMS arrived to pick up the DPS employees, and police arrested Martin on the spot.
"They didn't put her in the ambulance; they put her in the police car after she got beat up," Perron says.
By that time, parents were able to pick up their children.
"We did not effectively de-escalate this situation, and, as a result, the [Denver Green School] students and parents experienced a traumatic event when students were not released quickly enough from the bus and a staff member was injured in a resulting physical altercation," Cordova wrote.
The next day, a different bus driver showed up, but parents feared the driver and aide had simply been transferred to a different route. According to Jones, the bus driver, who has worked for DPS since 2015, and aide are on leave while the investigation is ongoing. Until Cordova's letter today, parents said, they hadn't received communication from the district about what happened. Williams says that her son has been reluctant to ride the bus in the days since. "He's been having all these kinds of bad dreams and thoughts about the bus drivers being in cahoots, and trying to kidnap them," she says. "We worry enough about some kid bringing drugs to school or guns to school without having my kid think he might be assaulted by some adult."
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Perron and other parents have been spreading the story on social media and trying to get racial-justice groups involved. "What this is about is, a Denver Public Schools bus driver and an aide jumped on a parent in a fight. The parent went to jail. The DPS employees got put in the ambulance and they went to the hospital," Perron said in her video.
"It has a very deep racial undertone to it," she added.
Martin has not yet been charged. According to jail records, she has been released from custody.
Update, September 25: This article has been corrected to state that the driver was an employee of DPS since 2015.
Update, September 30: We have corrected a sentence that mistakenly stated that the physical confrontation was between the parent and DPD; it was between the parent and the bus driver.