Disabled son was abused by school bus driver, Rocklin mom says in lawsuit

A Rocklin mother filed a lawsuit in federal court Friday alleging her 19-year-old disabled son was subjected to routine physical and psychological abuse during his daily bus rides to school.

Alicia Wagnon filed the lawsuit suit against Rocklin Unified School District, Placer County Office of Education and bus driver David Hawkins after she viewed three days of video tape on her son’s bus as it traveled to and from Del Oro High School between Sept. 26-28 last year.

She said the video showed Hawkins bullying and belittling Sullivan From, sometimes yelling at him within inches of his face.

“He made disparaging comments directly related to my son’s disability,” she said Friday.

From, who cannot speak, has cerebral palsy and is intellectually and physically disabled.

The tapes also showed Hawkins forcefully shoving From back into his seat when he leaned forward, although he was fully harnessed and incapable of getting up, according to the suit.

Hawkins could not be reached for comment.

“He is absolutely vulnerable,” Wagnon said Friday. “It was an act of intimidation, trying to exert his power over him and abuse him.”

According to the lawsuit some of the comments made by Hawkins included: “You almost know what you are doing.” “We’re not going to be friends anymore if you keep being bad.” “Quit being a brat.” And, “Oh, he is a pisser this morning.”

Rocklin Unified spokeswoman Diana Capra responded to requests for comment with a statement that said:

“We are limited on what we can comment on regarding pending litigation. As all our valued families know, the safety of all our students is our highest priority. The student attends a Placer County Office of Education program and is transported to that program on a school bus operated by the Rocklin Unified School District. Immediately upon receiving the complaint in October, District officials acted promptly and investigated the incident and disagree with the allegations being made.”

Wagnon was prompted to go to Rocklin Unified offices to view the video tapes after teachers at Del Oro High discovered a 6- to 8-inch bruise on her son’s thigh a week earlier, according to the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, Wagnon contends that there was a tire buddy – a 16-inch-long wooden stick used for checking tire inflation – that could have caused the contusion on her son’s thigh.

The suit also alleges that Hawkins frequently was seen on the tapes texting while he was driving the students.

Assistant Superintendent Colleen Slattery responded to a complaint filed by Wagnon in November by letter. Slattery said there was insufficient evidence to support the allegation that Hawkins exhibited inappropriate conduct with From. She acknowledged that Hawkins compromised student safety when he used the cell phone while operating the bus.

“The district is taking corrective action to address this conduct,” Slattery said.

Wagnon now drives her son to school.

“It robs Sullivan of the joy of riding the bus,” she said. “He sees his friends on the bus. It is a big part of his socialization and that has been taken from him.”

The complaint says that From’s constitutional and civil rights were violated, and that he was discriminated against. It asks for monetary damages for injury, emotional distress, pain and suffering, transportation costs, lost wages and medical expenses, as well as punitive damages against Hawkins, legal fees and costs.

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert