LARGO — People came to a Pinellas courtroom Friday to see Branden Allen sentenced for assaulting a fellow student on a school bus. They left having seen vivid images of the attack itself — an attack that will send Allen to prison for two years.
At the request of Allen's mother, surveillance video from the bus was played on a large courtroom monitor. It showed Allen, at the time an 18-year-old Dixie Hollins High School junior and football player, getting on the bus wearing only boxer shorts and flip-flops.
It showed him approaching a 15-year-old freshman girl, talking at her, grabbing his crotch. It showed him sitting on the bus seat next to her, grabbing the girl's legs and holding them apart. What it didn't show, attorneys filled in: He penetrated her with his finger, and took a photo of her genitals with a cell phone.
Visibly upset, the victim's mother fled the courtroom as the video played. Assistant State Attorney Douglas Ellis objected to showing the video, saying it would victimize the family again.
But Allen's mother, Trina Allen, wanted the judge to see it, to aid in his decisionmaking process.
Pinellas Pasco Circuit Judge Thane Covert watched the video and told Allen "you did an evil, willful and deliberate act" that reflected "the fears of every parent" who sends a child on a school bus.
"I can't think of a much more arrogant act than what you did on a public school bus."
But in the end, he sentenced Allen to far less than the 20-year maximum. He gave Allen two years in prison, sentencing him as a youthful offender, followed by two years house arrest and two years sex offender probation. He refused a request from defense attorney Ryan Fasso to withhold a judgment of guilt.
Allen, who had hoped to continue playing football and join the military, stared down and shed tears during the hearing.
Before that, he sat in the witness stand and apologized. "What I did to her, that's very embarrassing to her. … I'm sorry. I wish I could tell her now, I'm sorry."
Allen also said "at that time, I was just playing. … I just went too far."
Covert took issue, saying this clearly "wasn't just playing that got a little out of hand."
He said he was at a loss to understand why Allen took the photo. "Was it a trophy? … Was it to show your friends what you had done?"
"I didn't show anyone," Allen said softly.
"Why would you ever do it in the very beginning?" the judge asked.
The girl's parents chose not to speak, but a victim's advocate read from a letter they wrote. It said she had been involved in high school sports and numerous other activities, but that she had become very embarrassed by attention at the school and news media coverage. Now, they wrote, they "work every day to get back the happy, peppy little girl that we have lost."
Allen participated in a Tampa-based program for offenders. His program director and relatives said he has shown great remorse, worked hard, and that he has not been in trouble before.