A 12-year-old boy suffered serious head injuries last week when a staff member at a Pinellas Park alternative school body-slammed him after the boy skipped the lunch line.
The boy’s situation at AMIkids, a school for at-risk youth at 6500 102nd Ave. N, only got worse after that, Pinellas Park police say.
A supervisor at the school didn’t call anyone for help, even though the boy was drifting out of consciousness, vomiting, crying and asking for his mother. Instead, the boy was given a bucket and dragged “Weekend at Bernie’s-style” from one room of the school to another, said Pinellas Park police Capt. Adam Geissenberger.
The school supervisor that day, Jarvis Delon West, 28, then went on the bus with the boy to take him home, which is not normal protocol, and told the bus driver to go directly to the student’s house instead of the regular stop, police said. West asked the driver to make a stop along the way at another student’s house to get the boy water, and kept the trash can near the student.
Once at the injured boy’s home, West watched him go into the house but didn’t say anything to his mom about what had happened, police said.
The next day, the boy’s mom kept him home from school with what she thought was the flu. On Thursday, she took him to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. There she learned he had a skull fracture, two subdural hematomas and a brain bleed, police said.
The boy remains hospitalized in serious condition, police said.
West was arrested Monday on felony charges of failure to report child neglect and neglect of a child resulting in great bodily harm. He posted $55,000 bail and was released from the Pinellas County jail Monday night.
Police said Tuesday that they also expect to arrest the unidentified staff member who body-slammed the boy. West’s arrest report names Dontae Antonio Thomas, 34, as a co-defendant.
AMIkids is a nonprofit with multiple locations that focuses on at-risk youth. The Pinellas Park location is for boys ages 11 to 15 and takes referrals from Pinellas County Schools, parents and child services agents, according to the Pinellas County Schools website.
Joseph Gallina, a spokesperson for AMIkids Inc., said anyone on staff who police said were involved in the incident have been suspended.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the young man and his family during his time of recovery," AMIkids Pinellas said in a statement. “When we were notified by the authorities as to the extent of this incident, we took immediate disciplinary action. AMIkids Pinellas does not tolerate any behaviors that could cause harm to our students, as our top priority is the safety of our kids, our team and this community. In addition to fully cooperating with the authorities, we are also conducting an internal investigation of this matter.”
Pinellas school superintendent Mike Grego called the incident an “anomaly” for the alternative school. He said no similar incidents have happened there that he could recall, and that the district is “on top of” the situation.
However, court records and news reports show that AMIkids has run into issues with staff abuse and neglect at locations nationwide. The Tampa-based company — which has 44 programs across nine southern states, including 22 in Florida — has been involved in 34 federal lawsuits.
The director of AMIkids Tampa was arrested for head-butting a student in 2012. Over the next year, 15 of the company’s locations across the country closed, according to The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C.
In 2014, an AMIkids staffer assaulted a student, landing the child in the hospital complaining of jaw pain, according to the Beaufort Gazette in South Carolina. The student was drinking milk in the lunchroom when the staffer slapped him in the face, pinned him to the ground, put his hands around his throat and elbowed him in the jaw, the newspaper reported.
In 2015, a 16-year-old student, Del’Quan Seagers, died after collapsing from blows to the chest from classmates. His mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against AMIkids and others in 2017, saying the staff didn’t do enough to protect her son. The lawsuit said nobody provided him CPR or other emergency medical care, even as her son struggled to breathe, and that staff called other people before 911.
In 2016, Pasco County Schools ended its relationship with AMIkids amid money problems and complaints that student safety needs weren’t being met. After the contract ended, the program told teachers they wouldn’t be getting their withheld pay. The school district couldn’t help because teacher contracts are directly with AMIkids.
The same year, a teenager at Camp White Pines in South Carolina escaped and ran into a neighboring yard, according to WCBD News 2. Other kids in the program then beat him. When staff brought the student back, director of operations Curtis Hill choked and threw the 15-year-old to the floor. He was arrested for child abuse. Three other staff members were charged with obstructing justice for falsifying the report about the incident and failing to report it to the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice.
Also in 2016, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice let a Collier County AMIkids center close rather than negotiate with the company again. The Big Cypress Wilderness Institute had reports of abuse, understaffing, poor training and a student riot. In 2015, two juvenile residents were sent to the hospital after staff abuse, according to the Naples Daily News. One staffer slammed a student to the floor multiple times out of the view of security cameras, and in a later incident a staffer grabbed a student by the throat, put the child in a headlock and threw the juvenile to the ground.
A state audit found the center had inadequate staffing and training, which they blamed on high turnover. Several employees had never gone through state-mandated training about how to report child abuse and give first aid, according to the audit.
Also in 2016, the principal, vice principal and a school employee at a Louisiana location were arrested after failing to report an incident where a student was sexually assaulted by two classmates, according to The Shreveport Times.
The incident in Pinellas Park happened Feb. 11, after the student skipped the lunch line line and was directed to a “Room of Opportunity," which is where the school does testing and computer labs.
Several staff and students reported seeing the behavioral interventionist hoist the 12-year-old up at his waist and slam him to the ground, Geissenberger said. The boy weighs about 100 pounds, while the man who body-slammed him weighs about 300 pounds, police said.
The boy vomited, lost consciousness several times, cried and asked for his mother, according to an arrest affidavit. Employees instead sat him in a room and watched him for 90 minutes undisturbed, according to police. They then moved him to another room where staff watched him for another half hour. The boy needed help walking because he couldn’t stand well on his own, records show.
Soon after, the boy was taken to the bus and taken home. An investigation is ongoing, police said.