Mother claims son with autism was assaulted on school bus

State Attorney's Office rules actions of bus driver were justifiable

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Fla. – A Columbia County mother claims her son, who has autism, was assaulted on a special needs school bus. 

Lori Ratliff said her 11-year-old son, Tyler, came home with bruises, scratches and red marks on his chest and back following the altercation earlier this month with a bus driver.

"I was upset, terrified, outraged that someone could do that to my child," Ratliff told News4Jax on Wednesday.

But the State Attorney’s Office said the bus driver's actions were justifiable, and prosecutors declined to pursue charges. 

According to the Columbia County Sheriff's Office incident report, Tyler had been removed from the bus previously. 

The incident report shows the altercation unfolded Jan. 8 after the bus driver would not let Tyler have his backpack next to him on the bus. It's a policy the driver has for all bus riders, according to the report. 

"If he's not at home, his backpack is his safe place," Ratliff explained. "If she would have listened to us about letting him have his backpack or have a book or something, it probably would have never got this bad. He needs something to distract him, keep him busy, happy. She was taking his book bag every day and that was upsetting him.”

According to the report, video on the bus showed Tyler grabbing the backpack, throwing it and a bus aide putting him in a hold. 

At some point, Tyler grabbed a broom and swung a seat belt at the bus driver, investigators said. 

The bus driver then grabbed Tyler, but as he continued to resist, she used more force, knocking him off his feet and eventually pinning him up against a window, according to the report.

"He's just a little boy," Ratliff said. "I know he was acting up, but no need to throw him around like that." 

The State Attorney's Office sent a letter, saying the bus driver's actions were justified, considering Tyler's behavior leading up to the incident, and that charges will not be filed against the bus driver. 

"Even though they don't want to file charges, I want her to be fired," Ratliff said. "I want the bus drivers to understand children with problems."

Tyler's mother said he hasn't had any issues on the bus since that incident. She also said the bus driver has been placed on paid administrative leave. 

News4Jax has reached out to the Columbia County School District to see whether that will change since charges are not being filed, but had not heard back as of Wednesday evening. 

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