Denver District Attorney Beth McCann says her office will not be pressing criminal charges against parties involved in the fight between a Denver Public Schools bus driver and a parent on September 18 that has since gone viral on social media. Police had initially arrested Brandi Martin, the parent involved in the altercation, under suspicion of third-degree assault.
Parents, DPS officials and police have all communicated slightly different versions of the escalating tensions that led up to the physical altercation. All of them seem to agree that the trouble started with some kids misbehaving and being too loud, causing the driver to pull over twice. The second time the bus stopped, multiple parents reported that their kids called them amid a chaotic background and told them that the bus driver and aide were yelling and threatening disciplinary action; multiple parents say that the driver touched one child inappropriately when he tried to grab her phone from her.
A video that circulated on social media, re-posted below, shows concerned parents gathered outside of the parked bus, where the driver was preventing the kids — middle-schoolers on their way home from Denver Green School Northfield — from getting off. DPS spokesperson Will Jones says the driver was following the district's policy that ensures that children are only released to their parents. Qaedah Perron, who was among the parents in the crowd, says that the driver was not communicating why he was holding their children, who in the video can be heard crying and screaming. Eventually, Martin tried to climb on the bus via the emergency exit.
"As the video footage clearly shows, Ms. Martin was simply trying to help her child get off the bus when she was confronted by the DPS employees on the school bus," her lawyer, Chad Oxman, wrote in a statement. In the video, it appears that she punches the driver in the face several times, but also that he pushes her forcefully onto the seat and repeatedly pulls her by her hair, head and waist.
“The DPS employees were in a difficult situation and believed they were handling matters as best they could,” McCann wrote in her statement. “Ms. Martin was concerned about her child and took action that she believed was appropriate. Criminal charges are not warranted, although I hope that the parties are able to move forward and recognize the respective positions of those involved."
McCann also wrote that her office reviewed footage from inside the bus and determined there was no inappropriate touching. “Those claims are baseless and only contributed to the quickly unfolding events,” McCann wrote. However, Perron maintains that the driver forcefully grabbed her daughter and ran his hand across her breast. Janeel Williams, another parent, says her son also reported that the driver touched her in a way that "her dad probably wouldn't even touch her."
Perron says she and other parents were glad to see no charges would be pressed against Martin, but much more work needs to be done to repair the trust between DPS and the community.
Superintendent Susana Cordova apologized for the incident in a letter to parents on September 23. "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," she wrote. Cordova has also met with Denver Green School parents to discuss what happened.
Disappointed that they only learned there was a problem on the school bus via text messages from their kids instead of the district, parents would like clarification on the protocol for emergencies on school buses to prevent such situations from escalating.
"There's some sort of a break in communication between transportation and the [bus] drivers," Perron says. "There's something wrong with the protocol to notify for an emergency." The incident is indicative of larger problems in DPS transportation's communication with families, she says.
It's also imbued with racial undertones, Perron says. "When an African-American woman is reaching for her child and a white gentleman is trying to obstruct her from reaching her child, it is a systemic issue," Perron says. "No maternal basic instinct can be avoided in a situation where you see an employee’s elbow in your baby’s neck."
Cordova acknowledged in her letter that DPS staff did not deal with the situation using "trauma-informed" or "culturally responsive" practices.
The two employees are on leave while DPS continues their own review of the incident; Jones says leadership will meet with the transportation team on October 2.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.