Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Public safety

Lawyer asks school district to support bus driver in Gulfport beating case

The attorney of a driver whose school bus was the scene of a vicious beating last month is asking Pinellas school officials to publicly back his client for following district policies.

John Moody, the 64-year-old driver, has come under fire for not physically intervening when three 15-year-old boys attacked a 13-year-old classmate on the bus, breaking the younger boy's arm. Moody called bus dispatchers on his radio and screamed at the boys to stop.

"I want them to stand behind him," said Moody's lawyer, Frank W. McDermott. "I want them to publicly state that we support our driver because he followed the policy."

Moody's actions and the school district's policies for how bus drivers should respond to student altercations have become the subject of national debate after Gulfport police released a videotape of the beating in the last week.

The footage shows the three teenage attackers pummeling the younger student, who cowered between seats on the bus for more than a minute. They were on their way home from Lealman Intermediate School summer classes on July 9.

When the beating began, Moody was stunned. In his 18 years as a driver, he said, he had never seen a fight on his bus.

Gulfport police sent the case to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office to review if Moody might face charges related to negligence, but prosecutors decided not to move forward.

"I would have had to go in there, be physical and pull the kids apart, risking the other kids' safety, my safety," Moody said. "It was just something that couldn't be done."

Schools spokeswoman Melanie Marquez Parra said the district requires bus drivers to radio dispatch and stop the school bus during a serious altercation. They aren't required to step into a fight. Drivers can use their cellphones and they're allowed to call 911 — but they're not allowed to do it while driving.

Moody said his bus was stopped when the fight began, and that the victim was about to get off the bus when his attackers pounced on him from behind.

The common understanding among drivers, Moody said, is that they should never touch a child. "I probably would have been arrested for pulling kids, and who knows, they might have turned around and started punching me," he said.

The three alleged attackers face aggravated battery charges, and the victim suffered a broken arm, police said.

Police said the injured boy told officers he had reported one of his attackers to school officials earlier that day for trying to sell him drugs in the restroom.

Moody, who retired shortly after the beating, said school administrators should have told him about the incident. The students should not have been allowed on the same bus, he said.

School administrators can make a judgment call about whether students who had a run-in during the school day should then ride the bus home, Marquez Parra said. But it's done on a case-by-case basis.

Marquez Parra said that if McDermott wants school district officials to consider publicly backing Moody, he should contact them privately. McDermott said he has already started leaving voicemails with school officials.

Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at [email protected]

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