Last month, a young Gulfport resident was beaten by three older students on a school bus. News of this incident has been widely reported, and since a version of a local report was carried nationally by CNN, I have been overwhelmed with e-mails and phone calls from those who have been misled to think that I and the Gulfport Police Department have spoken ill of the bus driver.
Please allow me the opportunity to set the record straight.
I did a recorded interview with WFLA Tampa reporter, Yolanda Fernandez. I agreed to do the interview because I had received several questions from concerned people who had seen the video footage and wanted to know if we were going to criminally charge the bus driver. Having seen the video myself, I thought this was a reasonable concern and wanted to address it publicly.
When Ms. Fernandez’s story aired, I considered it an accurate representation of our conversation. I had explained during the interview that we would be referring the matter to the state attorney’s office for evaluation of charges. I said that, while I understood the bus driver’s decision not to get physically involved in the situation, the evidence indicated that he did not take action where it seemed clear that he could have. For example, the attack began after the bus was stopped, and the victim was beaten almost continuously for 64 seconds before the driver said something to the assailants. As soon as he did, they discontinued their attack. Imagine if he’d said something sooner. When the criminals fled the bus out the emergency exit, the victim lay out of sight underneath the seats. The driver, who had previously acknowledged to dispatch that he thought the boy was going to be killed, remained standing at the front of the bus.
When the state attorney’s office indicated it was not going to charge the driver with a crime, another WFLA reporter, Peter Bernard, did a follow up story. Unfortunately, what appeared on air included a heavily edited version of my statement. It appeared as though I was personally criticizing the bus-driver for not trying to step in and fight off the attackers. It was this particular version of the story that was picked up and re-aired by CNN and others without benefit of any follow up questions.
So I’m now left with the task of clarifying things on a very large scale. Essentially, this is what I have to make clear: I would not expect anybody who does not feel capable to physically intervene against three, violent teens. I completely understand and accept this bus driver’s decision not to do so.
Before I close, I think it is worth mentioning that the Gulfport Police Department did not reveal the identity of the bus driver. Until they became public record under Florida law, we did not release any documents with the driver’s name. We also did not mention his name in any news interviews or media releases, and his face was not visible in the video footage that we released. I presume his identity was learned via the Pinellas school board, and then it was revealed publicly by the television news.