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Young students with severe autism were abused by Littleton bus aide for months, law firm and families say

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Posted at 2:05 PM, Apr 09, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-10 11:26:48-04

ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. — Three students with severe autism "suffered unimaginable abuse" at the hands of a Littleton Public Schools (LPS) bus aide over the course of about six months, according to a local law firm representing the families.

The children, who are all non-verbal and rely on caregivers for their basic needs, traveled on a specialized LPS school bus every day between their homes and the Joshua School, a specialized facility that offers one-on-one instruction for children with autism. Rathod | Mohamedbhai LLC, which is representing the children's three families, said March 18 video footage from that school bus showed the bus aide, identified as Kiarra Monte Laron Jones, 29, of Littleton, repeatedly striking, punching and stomping on one of the children, the law firm said.

Jones had been hired as a paraprofessional by the Littleton Public Schools District and was responsible for the care of the students on the bus.

According to an arrest warrant for Jones filed on April 4, she is facing a charge of crimes against an at-risk adult or juvenile (third-degree assault) and crimes against an at-risk adult or juvenile causing injury. She was arrested on April 5 and bonded out on a $5,000 bond. This is an ongoing investigation, so more criminal charges are possible.

Families allege Littleton Public Schools bus paraprofessional abused children with autism

Those charges came after several months of the families, who all live in the Littleton School District, noticing injuries on their children, as well as a change in their behavior. This mostly started in September 2023. Because the children are non-verbal, they could not alert their families, said Ciara Anderson, an attorney with Rathod | Mohamedbhai LLC, during a Tuesday morning press conference.

"They also noted physical injuries on their child, including unexplained scratches, bruises, a lost tooth, a black eye, a broken toe and other deep bruises and marks on the bodies of their 10-year-old children," she continued, showing photos of the injuries.

The children were "subjected to unspeakable acts of abuse while they were in Littleton School District's care," she said.

One of the photos taken in January 2024 showed significant bruises on one of the children, which prompted the Joshua School to contact Littleton Public School District and "put them on notice of potential abuse," Anderson said, showing a screenshot of the email.

"In response, Littleton Public School District utterly failed," she said. "They did a sham investigation in which they looked at one (bus) ride — and the day before. They did no other investigation. They asked no other questions and they provided no other monitoring. Because of these horrific failures by the school district, the bus aide was emboldened to continue her abuse. And she did."

Young students with severe autism were abused by Littleton bus aide for months, law firm and families say

After that January report, families continued to document injuries they found on their children: On Jan. 23, a child came home with a busted lip and a lost tooth that had not been loose. On Feb. 13, a child had significant bruising to the neck. On March 18, that same child had bruises on his foot.

During the press conference Tuesday, Anderson — with permission from the family — shared the video of the bus aide hitting a child on March 18, calling it "sickening." While the videos are available to watch on Rathod | Mohamedbhai LLC's website, they are extremely disturbing and viewer discretion is advised. Anderson noted that the bruising on a child's foot — a photo she had pulled up just before — was the result of the abuse seen in that March 18 video.

The mother of that child contacted LPS again, and at that point, LPS looked at the video and Littleton police were called in. The case was then passed to the Englewood Police Criminal Investigations Bureau.

"And we've only seen one video," Anderson said. "There's so much more we have not seen."

An arrest affidavit, which "describes unspeakable harms," was published on the law firm's website, she said.

Edward C. Hopkins Jr., a lawyer with the firm, read aloud parts of the arrest affidavit for the bus aide, including details of the assault, such as the bus aide allegedly punching the child in the mouth. The parents of the child in the bus video, who stood in the room, turned into each other's arms for comfort.

Hopkins said looking at the arrest warrant, it is clear this was not just one person who failed the children, but an institutional failure.

"Multiple people had to fail for this to happen. This didn't happen once. It didn't happen twice. It didn't happen in one week. It happened over months," he said. "There was video on the bus and it still happened over months."


The three families shared their stories, reactions and pain upon learning about the bus aide's actions. The families' last names are not included to protect them.

The first to speak were the parents of the boy who was seen in the March 18 video. They said their son began riding a LPS school bus to the Joshua School in September to help expand his autonomy.

He came home one day in January with "enormous bruising all over his thighs, arms, ribs and underarm area, as well as his clavicle," his mother Jess said. The parents took photos of the injuries and communicated with the Joshua School often. She said things escalated when he came home on March 18 with immense bruising on his foot, as well as his ear and thigh. Jess notified LPS that day and the following day received a phone call from Littleton police informing her that a LPS employee had severely abused her son.

"How could someone that I trusted, someone that I was so friendly with, do this to my little boy?" she said, recalling that the bus aide had seemed friendly.

Jess said she bought the aide gifts around the holidays and gave her tea when she felt under the weather.

"She had me fooled," she said.

The boy's father, Devon, recalled his wife calling him after police had contacted her.

"My wife called me at work and through her tears told me she was informed through police that our absolute worst fears as parents had become reality," he said. "My sweet and loving son had been beaten and assaulted to a degree I would consider torture on multiple days while in the care of Littleton public transportation. I immediately rushed home to share in grief and horror with my wife as we learned of and saw more horrific abuse than I could possibly imagine happening to my son."

Jess and Devon watched the video and were in utter shock, she said.

Devon said as a father, one of his most important duties is to protect his family from harm, and the most sacred thing he can trust somebody with is his children, especially a son who cannot verbally report abuse.

"They (Littleton Public Schools) took my trust and they spit on it," he said. "They remained silent and complacent when my son needed them the most. In turn, I will not be silent or complacent."

"I haven't stopped fighting for him since that moment and I won't, until we have justice for him and all children like him," Jess said, adding, "There needs to be change. There needs to be procedures and consequences to make sure these children are safe."

The second parents to share their experiences were Brittany and Kevin. Kevin said he remembered learning about his son's diagnosis several years ago, and promising the boy that he would always be his voice.

"I'm here today because I failed. I failed that promise by getting him ready in the morning, walking him down to the bus stop and putting him on the bus with a monster," he said. "I failed him by trusting that the ladies on the bus and the people of the Littleton School District would also be there to protect him."

When the family moved to Littleton in 2020 for the educational needs of their son, LPS arranged for the boy to attend an out-of-district placement at the Joshua School, including transportation to the school. Like Jess and Devon, Brittany said her family believed taking the bus would help their son learn new skills and gain independence and confidence.

"We trusted that LPS would keep our son safe while transporting him to school," she said. "We believed they would uphold their legal duty to properly screen their employees to ensure they were qualified, safe and fully trained to care for our children... That trust was betrayed."

They began noticing unexplained injuries in the fall of 2023 and in September, noticed their son had a worsening limp, which a doctor confirmed with an X-ray was a fracture of his third metatarsal in his foot. The Joshua School said the injuries did not happen at school and the family knew it didn't happen at home, leaving them with unanswered questions.

Kevin said he never would have guessed that a grown woman on the school bus was verbally and physically assaulting his son and the boy's friends.

Three weeks ago, Brittany received a call from the Joshua School informing them about the injuries to Jess and Devon's child, as seen on the March 18 bus video. The school said that boy had been intentionally harmed by a LPS employee on the bus, and were concerned the same might have happened to Brittany and Kevin's son, as the injuries were similar, she said.

"I was further outraged when I learned that LPS does not regularly monitor school bus footage and only reviews it when an issue or a complaint has been raised," Brittany said. "... I want justice for our children. I want Littleton Public Schools held accountable for their inaction and negligence. That's why I'm here sharing the pain my son and family have endured. Pain creates change and I am demanding appropriate change so that no other mother has to feel this again."

Kevin also asked for help — to give his son a voice.

"Please help us hold the people responsible for these acts accountable and please help me advocate for my son, his friends and kids everywhere who are not able to stand up for themselves," he said.

The final family to speak during Tuesday's press conference was Jessica and Blake. Their son has been riding LPS transportation for more than a year, Jessica said. She remembered that when they got a new paraprofessional and bus in 2023, she was excited about the opportunities.

Blake described every day as a struggle to create the best care for their son, but these recent events have brought a new level of difficulty.

"We trusted LPS with our son's care and his life in providing just the transportation to school," he said. "They failed us."

The LPS superintendent reached out to their family three days after the investigation of the March 18 video began, and told them that their son was not a victim in this case, Blake said. Less than 24 hours later, police said the boy was indeed a victim.

"As of the past two weeks, we have been nothing but heartbroken and saddened to learn that (our son) was identified as a second victim by the Littleton Police Department in relation to the abuse (Jess and Devon's son) and likely (Brittany and Kevin's son) and likely all of our other classmates endured for months," Jessica said.

She said her son's bruises and illnesses often come with a lot of digging because he is non-verbal. The last several months have been full of nothing but that, she said.

"Countless injuries which we had no explanation for and seemed to fall on deaf ears," Jessica said.

Blake said he wants LPS held accountable for what happened to their children.

None of the children are now riding the school bus.


Hopkins with Rathod | Mohamedbhai LLC said one question he expects people to ask is if the three families plan to sue LPS for failing to keep their children safe, which should have been the No. 1 priority.

"How Littleton Public Schools could utterly fail at the primary mission, the most important thing that they are called to do, is astonishing," he said. "We all should be outraged. We all should be shocked. We ought to be more than angry."

As far as a lawsuit, he said if LPS does not hold itself fully accountable, "we're going to make them do it" and a lawsuit will follow.

"We're going to do the best that we can to help these families remind our public schools that their No. 1 job is to keep them safe," Hopkins said. "...We expect Littleton Public Schools to raise their hand and say, 'We failed these families. We are going to fix what we did wrong. We are going to hold ourselves fully accountable and give you whatever you need.' That's what we hope they are going to do. If they don't come out and do that without our help, we'll help them do it."

The firm said law enforcement has access to all of the bus footage, but no other details were available on what they show.

Hopkins said he expects both the children and families to undergo long-term care in connection with these incidents in addition to what was already required for raising a child with severe autism. Jess and Devon explained that healing from a traumatic event like this is not quick or linear.

"Since being off that bus... he got his light back that she took from him," Jess said. "We're still going through it, but he's safe now and that's what's important."

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