Disturbing surveillance video and audio of two former Culpeper County Public School employees accused of physically and verbally assaulting a 5-year-old autistic kindergartner on a school bus in February brought tears to the victim’s mother’s eyes.
As a result, this case also brought a guilty verdict and punishment for one defendant and a not guilty judgment for the other.
Following more than three hours of testimony in Culpeper County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Tuesday, Judge Frank Somerville found former CCPS bus aide Betty Turner, 56, guilty of assault and battery and former CCPS teacher’s aide Linda Rastall, 50, not guilty of the same charge.
Somerville sentenced Turner to 180 days in jail before suspending all of the active time behind bars, ordered her to attend anger management classes, prohibited her to work with children under 12 and have no contact with the young victim.
“It’s a difficult case,” said Somerville, who repeatedly reviewed the video before making his ruling. “All of this could have been avoided but the inability to calm down has forced us all here.”
Before the young victim even boarded bus No. 77 parked outside Sycamore Park Elementary School after school on Feb. 20, the recording device mounted on the bus captures him visibly upset, crying and asking for his magic wand that had previously been taken away from him. Rastall is seen verbally attacking the child as she tried to strap his seat belt on while Turner leans on the victim as he cried.
“I want my wand back,” he cries repetitively as Rastall is seen forcefully helping him board the bus. During her interrogation interview, Rastall said a teacher took the toy because “he had been hitting other children with it.”
Autism is a neurological disorder that impedes a person’s social interaction and communication skills while causing restricted and repetitive behavior in some cases. But the spectrum is widespread, meaning one person could express his or herself verbally while another could be identified as non-verbal.
“You can’t have it, get over it,” Rastall yells at the victim. “You’ve been a bad boy.” Albemarle County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jon R. Zug, special prosecutor in this case, described Rastall as “picking the victim up and slamming him down in the front seat.”
“Picking a child up and slamming him down is assault and battery,” argued Zug, referring to Rastall’s actions. “In regards to Turner, You see her lift her leg and sink down into his legs. His tone and tenor changes instantly and there are screams of pain. He’s also seen limping off the bus. That is inappropriate behavior and that is assault.”
The video also depicts Rastall “lowering herself to his face where she starts to yell, “You are messing with the wrong woman. I’ve had a bad day.” This threatening interaction caused the victim to cry. At this point, Turner takes over the situation. “Ms. Turner can be seen kneeing [the victim] forcefully and [he’s] heard yelling ‘ouch, ouch, ouch…continuing for 20 to 30 seconds while Ms. Turner laid her 300-pound body on the [50-pound victim],” according to CCSO Det. Justin Brown’s written statement. During Tuesday’s hearing, the court played video of Det. Brown interviewing both Rastall and Turner, asking them if they’ve viewed the evidence.
“I can image it doesn’t look good,” Rastall replied. “I growled at him. Sometimes, I growl at my own children. I growled at him so that I could get his seatbelt on.”
Brown told Rastall, “It looks like you are very rough with the kid. It looks bad.”
Turner, who moved toward Rastall and the victim after witnessing the struggle, said she never “put her leg in his stomach,” as someone who previously viewed the video suggested she did.
“He should have never been on the bus that day,” said Turner. “The more I would put the seat belt on, the more he would take it off.”
On the video, Turner -- who admitted to never receiving specific training how to deal with children with special needs -- is seen shifting her weight on the victim. Her excuse was “When the bus started to move, she was forced to brace herself from falling on the [him]. My knee did not touch him.”
Before Tuesday’s ruling, Turner’s defense attorney Ed Gentry of Culpeper argued that it was unclear how the victim obtained injuries to the back of his knees and leg, suggesting that he possibly acquired them when he “went limp” from a tantrum and falling to the ground before boarding the bus.
Rastall’s defense attorney Sam Higginbotham of Orange argued that school employees such as teachers are allowed to touch children physically under certain circumstances, according to the law.
“She was just doing her job,” he added.
During her testimony, Kathy Campbell, the child’s mother, said she could hear screaming before the bus pulled up in front of her home that day.
“He said, ‘Momma, Ms. Betty hurt me,’” Campbell repeated for the court Tuesday, adding that his teacher sent her an email warning her that the child was visibly upset when he left the school.
“I thought he was upset about the wand,” said Campbell, wiping tears from her face. “It was so bad, I took him to the library to try and calm him down.”
A few days later, Campbell decided a physician should examine her son and he was diagnosed with a mild right knee sprain. Dr. Heidi Martinson, a pediatrician in Fishersville, said the victim also suffered a small bruise above his ankle and swelling on his knee.
Following the February bus incident, both Turner and Rastall resigned from CCPS. Turner started working for the school system in October 2010 and Rastall had been with CCPS since October 2003. The young victim is now 6 and attending an entirely different school.