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Littleton school bus aide accused of beating nonverbal autistic boys during rides

A Littleton school bus assistant repeatedly abused at least two severely disabled boys during trips to and from a school for kids with autism and developmental disabilities, police said, and they fear there could be additional victims.

Kiarra Jones, a 29-year-old paraprofessional, has been charged with a low-level felony on assault charges and has posted a bond at the Arapahoe County Jail.

Police said in her seven-month tenure as an assistant on a school bus for kids with special needs, she hit and physically abused at least two children by pulling their hair, elbowing them in the face, stomach, and back, and flicking their faces.

Neither of the boys can talk, but both were crying during the episodes on the bus, police documents said.

Parents of the boys said police told them they believe her abuse was systemic and frequent and there are likely more victims.

Jones also endeared herself to several of the parents and gained their trust, all while she was abusing their children, parents said.

“I literally bought her Christmas presents at Christmas time and tea when she wasn’t feeling good,” said Jessica Vestal, the mother of a slight 10-year-old boy with sandy hair who was repeatedly abused by Jones, according to video footage on the bus. “It’s disgusting and every day, it was, ‘Oh, you guys are my favorite family on the bus’ … It’s sick. It’s insane, but he’s safe now.”

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Parents of disabled boys assaulted by Littleton school bus aide plan to file lawsuit as suspect faces criminal charges.

This is the third known district in seven years where a bus assistant reportedly abused children with disabilities. A Larimer County paraprofessional with a history of child abuse was accused of punching autistic kids on a Poudre School District bus in May 2023. And in Boulder in 2017, a woman was convicted of abusing a disabled girl on a school bus repeatedly for seven days.

Kevin Yarbrough’s son is believed to be a victim, according to police, because he had an unexplained broken foot bone in the fall, and Jones was reportedly stomping on the children’s feet.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Yarbrough said he felt like he failed his son.

“I’m here today because I failed,” he said. “I failed him by trusting that the ladies on the bus and the people of the Littleton school district would also be there to protect him. I had assumed that when his teachers had a rough time getting off the bus, that there wasn’t a grown woman who was verbally and physically torturing my son and his friends. My son doesn’t have the ability to tell me when school is hurting him.”

In a video released Tuesday by civil rights attorneys, Jones can be seen in camera footage from the bus elbowing Vestal’s son in the torso and shoulders and stomping on his foot. The video was captured on March 19, 2024. Vestal’s son came home that day with a large bruise on the top of his foot, it looked like a bowling ball was dropped on it, his mother said.

She called the police and that was Jones’ last day at work, she said.

Jones has no serious criminal history except for some driving infractions. A public profile of her shows that she worked as a dispatcher for a towing company before getting the job at Littleton Public Schools in the summer of 2023. School officials say she passed a background check and she was fired on March 19.

The affidavit filed by Englewood Police described another day of abuse on the bus.

On Feb. 13, an officer said he watched a video that depicted Jones repeatedly abusing Vestal’s son, hitting him in the mouth with a closed fist, poking him in the chin, hitting him with the back of her hand and pulling his hair. She also repeatedly dropped a toy on the ground and when he went to get it, she would hold his head down and then grab his jaw.

That same day, a video shows Jones pulling the hair of another student, whose parents also spoke out on Tuesday and called for accountability for Littleton Public Schools.

Blake McBride said he got a call from the Littleton superintendent Todd Lambert, who “ensured us that our son was not present or a victim in this case.”

Then, he said, 24 hours later, he was told by an Englewood police officer that his son was the second victim, according to videos on the bus.

“We haven’t seen the video,” McBride said. “We have asked for the videos and we were met with lies. We want Littleton to be held accountable for what has happened to our children.”

Ed Hopkins Jr. is an attorney representing three families so far and called for Littleton Public Schools to hold themselves fully accountable.

“This was an institutional failure. Multiple people had to fail for this to happen,” Hopkins said. “There was video in the bus and it still happened over months. The family reached out to the school and it still continued to happen over months. That’s failure.”

Hopkins and the families said they started reaching out to The Joshua School, a private school contracted by Littleton to provide services, back in the fall with concerns about unknown injuries and panic attacks their children were suffering after bus rides.

Lawyers said on Tuesday they are unclear whether Littleton ever embarked on any internal investigation or looked at the bus camera footage to figure out the source of the abuse. Englewood police officers are currently reviewing up to eight weeks of footage, which is as much as they have. They discard it every eight weeks, lawyers said.

Vestal said she had a mom instinct that something was wrong this entire school year with her 10-year-old son.

He had been thriving in school and loved cuddling and hugs. But his mood had shifted and he was frequently dissolving into two-hour meltdowns when he got home, weeping and despondent.

Then Vestal noticed the bruises.

Because he sometimes injured himself, she knew that minor scrapes and bumps were par for the course.

But these were different, bruises on his body, on his neck. He came home with a black eye. He came home without one of his back baby teeth, even though it hadn’t been loose that morning. And one time, he came home with a massive wad of gum stuck purposefully in his hair, above his neck, even though gum was specifically prohibited everywhere he went.

“You’d think having cameras on the bus would mean better safety, obviously that’s not the case,” she said.

The parents overwhelmingly said in interviews that the news of the abuse has created a renewed crisis of trust in a world where they have to fight every day for their kids.

“We fight with school districts over our kids’ IEPs (individualized education plans). And we fight with doctors. We fight all damn day,” Brittany Yarbrough said. “But we never, it never even occurred to us, that it could be someone on the bus. Because you shouldn’t have to fight for their safety. That just wasn’t even a thought. It’s like, of course, they’re going to keep our kids safe. Forget about the education. Keeping our kids safe was something we never questioned.”

In a letter to parents released to media on Tuesday, Littleton Public Schools Superintendent Todd Lambert said Jones had “very limited access to students during her employment with LPS.”

Jones has a court date in May. The parents of the victims said on Tuesday they plan on attending the Littleton Public Schools board meeting on Thursday to demand change to safety protocols and hiring.

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