No criminal charges in Denver school bus fight as the district continues its review

A Denver parent will not face criminal charges related to a fight on a school bus that community activists say is representative of larger racial problems in the district. A bus driver and bus monitor involved in the altercation won’t face charges, either.

Whether Denver Public Schools will undertake any policy changes in response to the Sept. 18 incident remains to be seen, as the district’s own review is still in progress.

And the incident could have ongoing implications for the district’s relationship with its drivers. The district said Tuesday that it had received word some bus drivers may not come to work in protest.

“We have heard that members of our transportation team may not come to work (Wednesday) in response to a recent bus incident, and there might be fewer team members available to transport kids to school,” said an automated message sent to Denver parents late Tuesday afternoon.

In announcing her decision not to press charges, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann said Tuesday that feelings were heated on all sides, and she appealed to everyone involved to “move forward” and recognize the perspectives of others.

“The DPS employees were in a difficult situation and believed they were handling matters as best they could,” McCann said in a statement. The mother “was concerned about her child and took action that she believed was appropriate. Criminal charges are not warranted.”

The incident in question happened on the way home from school in northeast Denver. According to witness accounts, video taken by another parent, and a probable cause statement, the bus driver pulled over between regular stops after students on the bus became “unruly.” Alerted by texts from their children, parents went to that location, but the bus driver and an aide did not let students off the bus. A chaotic scene unfolded, with children screaming and the bus staff blocking the rear door.

After a few students squeezed out, 32-year-old Brandi Martin jumped onto the bus to get her daughter. In a video of the incident, the driver or the bus monitor appeared to grab Martin and shove her into a seat. She broke free and tried to climb further into the bus, but the man grabbed her by the arm and later by the hair. She broke free again and threw some punches before exiting the bus, clutching her head.

Martin, who is black, was arrested on suspicion of third-degree assault on a person at risk but will not face charges. The bus driver and aide, who appear to be white, were placed on administrative leave. District spokesman Will Jones said the pair remain on paid administrative leave as of Tuesday. Asked if either employee could face disciplinary action, Jones said personnel matters are confidential.

“This incident escalated very quickly and was difficult and emotional for everyone involved,” McCann said in her statement.

She added that there was no evidence the driver or aide inappropriately touched students, as at least one student alleged.

The incident occurred as Denver Public Schools, under pressure from community activists, is engaged in a larger debate about how to better serve its students of color and in particular its black students. Superintendent Susana Cordova started her term earlier this year with a pledge to improve the district’s record.

Shortly after the incident, Denver Chief Operating Officer Mark Ferrandino said the situation should have been handled differently, with greater effort to de-escalate tensions.

In a statement released after the district attorney’s decision, Denver Public Schools officials echoed McCann’s call for everyone to “move forward” and said they continue to review the incident, with a meeting scheduled Wednesday with the transportation team.

“It is important to emphasize that there are necessary safety procedures in place for bus transportation that expressly prohibit non-district staff from entering a school bus,” the district said in its statement. “In addition, it is essential that adults lead by example for our students and that issues are resolved peacefully through dialogue and without physical altercation. … We are committed to moving forward and making any needed improvements in our policies and trainings to ensure our students and staff are supported and safe and that we are providing quality service to our families.”