Bus Driver Faces Child Abuse Charges for Intentional Brake Slamming

April 27, 2023 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Violent Crimes

Child abuse is an unfortunate crime that affects thousands of children in Florida and the rest of the United States. The effects of child abuse can be devastating, causing both physical and emotional trauma. Not only is child abuse morally reprehensible, but it is also illegal in the state of Florida. A person who is accused of child abuse may face serious consequences if convicted.

This page will explore the dangers of child abuse, provide a recent child abuse case, cover the criminal charges for child abuse in Florida, and information on contacting a defense attorney for any person who needs legal representation in Florida.

What was the Incident?

Colorado school bus driver Brian Fitzgerald, 61, was arrested after allegedly slamming on the brakes to “teach the kids a lesson.” According to the report, a surveillance video shows Fitzgerald saying, “You guys want to see how dangerous that is?” as the children on the bus fell from their seats.

“Ow! Oh my God,” several students are heard saying after the driver intentionally slammed on the brakes.

“That’s why you have to be in your seats,” Fitzgerald is heard saying to the children.

Several students suffered injuries due to their heads hitting the seats in front of them.

Colorado police have since arrested Fitzgerald, and he is now facing 30 counts of child abuse. The driver has since apologized, saying he was attempting to “educate” and “control” the students after they were allegedly running around and acting out of control.

Fitzgerald has since been fired following the incident.

Facts on Child Abuse

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), child abuse causes long-term impacts on the child’s health, opportunities, and overall well-being. The four most common types of child abuse include:

  • Physical Abuse – The intentional use of physical force that may result in physical injury to the victim. Examples include hitting, punching, kicking, shaking, burning, or any other signs of force against a child.
  • Sexual Abuse – The pressuring or forcing of a child to engage in sexual acts such as fondling, exposure of genitals, penetration, or any other sexual act on or upon a child.
  • Emotional Abuse – Type of behavior which would likely cause harm to a child’s self-worth or emotional well-being. Examples include name-calling, shaming, rejecting, or withholding love and support.
  • Neglect – The failure to meet a child’s basic physical and emotional needs. Including the basic needs of shelter, food, clothing, education, health care access, and validation of their feelings while appropriately responding to them.

The CDC stated that one in seven children in the United States has experienced child abuse or neglect within the past year. In 2020, there were an estimated 1,750 children who died because of child abuse or neglect. The rates of child abuse are even higher in areas of poverty. According to the CDC, rates of child abuse and neglect are five times higher in families with a low socioeconomic status.

As a result, children who experience child abuse or neglect are more likely to experience violence later in life. Children victims of abuse have a higher chance of substance abuse, delayed brain development, and limited employment opportunities.

To find out more about child abuse and the CDC’s child abuse resources, refer to their page here.

Child Abuse Charges in Florida

Although the example case took place outside of Florida, it is important to have a full understanding of what a child abuse charge looks like in this state.

Under Florida Statute Section 827.03, “child abuse” is defined as any of the following:

  • The intentional infliction of physical or mental injury upon a child;
  • An intentional act that may reasonably be expected to cause physical or mental injury to a child; or
  • The active encouragement of any person to commit an act that results in physical or mental injury to a child.

Any person who is accused of knowingly or willfully abusing a child without causing great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to the child can be charged with a third-degree felony in Florida. The penalties for a third-degree felony include up to a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison.

The charges can be enhanced to an aggravated child abuse offense if the child abuse incident fits the following:

  • The defendant willfully tortures, punishes, or unlawfully cages a child; or
  • The defendant knowingly or willfully abuses a child and in doing so, causes either great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement.

A defendant who is charged with aggravated child abuse can face a first-degree felony in Florida. The penalties for a first-degree felony include up to a $10,000 fine and up to 30 years in prison.

Stats on Child Abuse Charges in Florida

According to the Florida Department of Education, there were 560 reports of alleged child abuse or neglect made against Florida school employees from the 2018-2019 school year. Out of those, 328 reports were deemed valid, whereas 232 were deemed invalid or unfounded.

It’s important to note that these statistics come from the cases that are reported to law enforcement. It is possible that some cases go unreported or are not included in the official statistics. In addition, not all reported cases will lead to criminal charges or criminal convictions. This is due to some cases not meeting the legal threshold for prosecution, or insufficient evidence to support a conviction.

If you are being prosecuted for a child abuse or child neglect charge, it is imperative that you seek legal representation as soon as possible to best defend your case.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Florida prosecutors take crimes against minors very seriously. If you or a loved one have been accused of committing a child abuse or neglect offense, your first step should be reaching out to a defense attorney in your area. Finding the right attorney will make all the difference in your case, as you want a legal advisor who will build you a strong defense and ensure all your rights are protected.

Don Pumphrey and his team of attorneys have years of experience representing those who are wrongfully accused of criminal offenses in Florida. We vow to stand by your side and fight for your future. Contact Pumphrey Law Firm today at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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