PEORIA, Ariz. — Peoria school bus surveillance video shows the moment when a nonverbal student with autism was punched in the face by the grandfather of another student.
On April 26 about 8:45 a.m., Sammy Alfred was having a meltdown on his way to school.
The school bus was parked outside the home of another student when the bus driver tried to calm Alfred down.
Alfred is 20 years old, but his parents say he has the mentality of a four-year-old. His school bus usually has padded windows, but that day, it was a different bus, with normal walls and glass windows.
The bus surveillance video shows the bus driver trying to calm Alfred down by talking and trying to hold him still.
Alfred, who was restrained to his seat, fought back by pushing the bus driver away, at times hitting the driver, glass and bus wall.
Alfred’s parents, Corina and Scott Alfred, say their son can’t control his emotions, nor say what is bothering him. Pushing people away, they add, is his way of creating separation from what is causing him stress.
The bus driver continued to aid Sammy Alfred for a couple of minutes until things escalated when the grandfather of the other student boarded the bus and started to yell at Sammy Alfred.
“You want to get smacked in the head, boy,” the man is heard saying in the video as he takes a step inside the school bus.
The man is not currently facing charges according to the county attorney’s office as they review the case, so 12 News is not naming him at this time.
The bus driver was standing in the aisle, three seats down the row aiding Sammy Alfred when the man began to yell at him and point his finger in his direction.
The video shows Sammy Alfred get more agitated as the man continued to raise his voice saying, "You’re going to break the window and I’m going to bust you in the head!”
The bus driver repeatedly told the 69-year-old man that he could handle it, but the man persisted.
Peoria police reports and bus surveillance video showed that Sammy Alfred pushed the man, then the driver, and three seconds later, the man punched him in the face.
Two hours after the incident, Sammy Alfred’s parents were notified after the incident, when they said police were called to the school. They viewed the video that day, later given a redacted copy on Friday, in disbelief of what took place.
“He can’t fight for himself, he was restrained, it’s just heartbreaking,” said Sammy Alfred’s mother.
Corina Alfred said Sammy Alfred hasn’t been the same since that day. He refuses to ride the school bus in the mornings, so she drives him to school. That drive can be daunting, as his demeanor changes when they approach a school bus on their way, she said.
“I wish that the bus door would have been shut once they recognized that [the man] was an external risk to the bus,” Sammy Alfred’s father says.
“I told him I would handle it, I don’t know why the guy insisted,” said the bus driver said on the video from the incident. The aide he was talking to responded, “You know what, you should have gotten him off the bus and then closed the door.”
Sammy Alfred’s parents want to see policy change within the Peoria School District, and they say it's not the first issue they have raised. Those issues involve lack of care or treatment towards students with disabilities, specifically nonverbal individuals like Sammy.
The family wants better training for staff and a culture change around people with disabilities, who they say need to be humanized and respected and not treated as “second class citizens for being autistic.”
The Peoria School District says it is working with the family and those involved, including the bus driver, who they alleged was badly hurt from the incident.
Peoria police did not say if the bus driver was hurt during the incident but said Sammy Alfred suffered minor injuries.
Physically, Sammy Alfred’s injuries in his nose and face have slowly healed, but his parents said the emotional and physiological toll the assault caused him, and lack of trust, will take years to rebuild.
The family says Sammy Alfred’s schoolteacher at Accel, a nonprofit organization that serves children and adults with developmental disabilities, will soon begin riding the bus with him in the mornings.
“All [we] can do is hold him and reassure him, comfort him, and assure him he’s okay and that we love him,” Sammy Alfred’s mother said.
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