Ellen Moynihan , Graham Rayman and Ben Chapman
New York Daily News
A horrified Brooklyn couple says their developmentally disabled daughter was manhandled by a school bus attendant in a shocking assault caught on camera.
Shaheen and Alex Knox plan to sue the school bus company and the disgraced bus attendant for the shaking and jostling their child suffered during a ride to class at Manhattan Children’s Center on Oct 30.
Their daughter, India Knox, 13, is dependent on 24-hour medical care and has the mental capacity of a 5-year-old.
Her parents said there’s nothing the 84-pound girl could’ve done to provoke Leesel Transportation Corp. attendant Beleck Valmont, who was captured on video shaking India by her head on the way to school. Another bus staffer, who was concerned by what he saw, shot cell phone footage of Valmont’s actions and notified school officials.
“I’ll calm down, I’ll calm down,” terrified India cries in the clip, as Valmont clutches her back the back of her head, and using the hood of her coat as a handle, presses her face into the seat in front of her.
“No,” Valmont replies, before he shakes her head once again and pushes her at the bus window.
Later that day, school officials told India’s parents and the police, who arrested Valmont and charged him with six crimes including assault.
India’s father said the family is heartbroken by the incident, which left the girl traumatized and suffering from bruises and scratches.
“It’s every parent’s worst nightmare,” said Knox, 55, a talent agent. “You give people trust that they’re going to do safely transport your child to school. Assault isn’t something you expect.”
The paraprofessional who shot the video of Valmont and turned it over to authorities, said he did so to protect India and the other kids on the bus.
“He was pulling her hood over her head and mashing her head into the seat and you don’t do stuff like that,” said Justin Foster, 34 of Manhattan. “It was a situation where I felt I had to do the right thing.”
But Valmont, 48, of Long Island, insists he did nothing wrong.
“I’m sorry about what happened because I didn’t want to do anything wrong to the girl,” he said. “I love kids and I never got into trouble.”
Valmont said he has a daughter of his own and has been working as a city school bus attendant for 13 years.
He claims he grabbed India by the hood to control her because she was spitting and angering other students. He was released without bail and is due back in court next month.
City Education Department officials suspended Valmont and assigned a new bus and driver to the route.
India returned to the bus Monday but remains fearful, her father said.
The Knox family has retained attornies Matthew Blit and Sanford Rubenstein, and India’s father said he intends to sue Valmont and Leesel Transport Corp, which operates India’s route.
“It is fortunate we were able to obtain a video of this assault and pictures of the cuts,” Rubenstein said.
Education Department officials said they took quick action in the case, which is just the latest black eye in long series of problems to beset the city’s $1.2 billion yellow bus system since the start of the current school year on Sept 5.
In October, a Daily News investigation revealed accusations that senior bus officials pushed for the hiring of bus workers who’d been convicted of serious crimes, leading the city to overhaul background checks for bus staffers.
Education Department officials wouldn’t say if Valmont’s background check revealed any red flags, but he said he’d never been arrested before.
“The NYPD and (the schools’) Special Commissioner of Investigation are investigating this deeply disturbing allegation, and we swiftly suspended the attendant and provided this family with a new bus route,” said DOE spokeswoman Miranda Barbot.
Representatives for Bronx-based Leesel Transportation Corp. didn’t respond to calls for comment.
City Education Department officials said Leesel operates approximately 350 yellow school bus routes and is paid about $50 million per year by the city for its services.
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