Fight on bus caught on video

Friday, September 26, 2008

For the past two weeks a graphic video of a fight that took place on a Marshall County school bus has been circulating among students and adults. The fight, which involved two Cornersville High School students, took place Sept. 11.

As one student does his best to hunker down in his seat and protecting his head and face, the video shows his assailant standing in the aisle and striking blows from above.

The video was recorded via cell phone by another student on the bus. Since then it has been forwarded from cell phone to cell phone. The video also came to the attention of adults, including the administration at Cornersville High School and at the offices of the Marshall County School Board.

As a result the assailant faced disciplinary action by the school and earlier this week pleaded guilty to charges of assault filed by the parents of the other student.

When contacted by the Tribune, Cornersville High School Principal Bob Edens refused to make any comment concerning the incident.

Citing state law regarding the confidentiality of student records, Dr. Stan Curtis, director of Marshall County Schools, also declined to name either of the students involved or even to specify what disciplinary measures were meted out, insisting that to do so could comprise the confidentiality of the students involved. But he did discuss the incident in general terms.

Curtis also affirmed Edens' handling of the incident, adding, "He followed board policy."

The Tribune does not identify juveniles.

The fight occurred around 8:15 a.m. on a bus traveling from Cornersville High School to a vocational class in Lewisburg.

"I was on the phone with him when it happened," said the victim's mother. "He had called me and told me there was going to be trouble."

According to the victim and his mother, the two students became involved in a heated exchange of words that quickly escalated into physical violence.

"He smacked me and said 'that's for running your mouth,'" the assaulted student said.

As his mother listened helplessly via cell phone, the punches continued for what the victim estimates was "a good three minutes" before the bus driver stopped the bus and broke up the fight.

At that point, the victim said that rather than risk another attack he left the bus and began walking back toward Cornersville. When contacted on Monday Sept 22, Curtis, director of Marshall County Schools, was unable to confirm that any student had left the bus.

"I found my child walking down Cornersville Highway," said the victim's mother, who had jumped in her car after receiving the cell phone call her son placed from the bus.

As a result of the fight, the mother said her son suffered two black eyes, minor cuts and scrapes, and had "knots all over his head." After taking him for X-rays, she said she was also told that his brain had swelled slightly from assault. She said he remained absent from school the rest of that Thursday and Friday but returned to class the following Monday.

Asked about the delay in breaking up the fight, Curtis stressed that the bus driver's primary responsibility is to operate the bus safely at all times. "He can't just stop in the middle of the road," Curtis said. "He has to find a safe place to pull over."

During the entire time he was being attacked, the victim insists he did not strike back at his assailant. The victim's mother instructed her son not to retaliate if he is hit by another student.

"If you fight back you get thrown out of school the same as the other guy, and then your grades go in the toilet," she said. "I told him he's there for an education, not to fight."

Marshall County School Board policy allows for the suspension or expulsion of any student for "violence or threatened violence against the person of any personnel attending or assigned to any school."

Curtis confirmed that had the victim struck back he would have been subject to the same disciplinary measures as his attacker.

"That," Curtis explained, "is because unless a fight breaks out in the presence of an SRO (school resource officer), we really have no way of determining who's at fault. You've got one side saying one thing and the other side saying something else. You can't tell who started what."

Curtis said that while SROs are authorized to make an arrest if a student attacks another student, the school does not file charges in such cases. He added that if another student strikes a student the parents have the option of filing criminal charges, which is what took place.

"I filed assault charges and vandalism charges because the cell phone was broken during the fight," the mother said.

The alleged assailant made his appearance in Juvenile Court Tuesday before Judge Steve Bowden. When questioned about the incident by Bowden, the accused replied, "I lost my temper."

Bowden told him, "You don't have the right to hit anybody except in self-defense."

At Bowden's insistence, the two boys then shook hands.

In addition to being ordered to attend anger management classes, the assailant was also ordered to pay restitution. The victim's cell phone was valued at $300. The cost of his doctor's office visit was $50. The total cost of the X-rays taken was not known at the time of the trial but was expected to be around $700.

In addition to the cell phone video, Curtis noted that the fight was also captured by the video camera the schools place on each bus.

There have been eight reported fights in Marshall County schools already this school year, according to Curtis.

"It's on everybody's phone," his mother said. "It's dealing with the ridicule of it now that he's facing. It kind of makes it hard to teach them not to fight and beat each other up when they go to school and get beat up."