By John W. GOODWIN JR.
The family of a student accused of fighting with a bus driver and assistant and threatening those on the bus with a gun says the boy is not totally at fault in the incident, and they say they have the video to prove it.
Matthew Spain, 17, of Ridge Road, is in the Martin P. Joyce Juvenile Justice Center for actions he is said to have taken on a school bus Monday. Spain was being taken home from the University Project Learning Center on Ford Avenue.
One student on the bus recorded on a cell phone the altercation between Spain, the bus driver and a bus assistant and handed that footage over to the Spain family.
According to police reports filed by the bus driver and assistant, Spain began calling students riding the bus, the driver and the assistant foul names and using swear words.
Reports say the bus stopped at the boy’s home, but he refused to get off.
The driver and assistant told police the boy repeatedly refused to get off the bus, then wrestled with them over the door handle when they decided to return him to the school. Reports say the boy then grabbed the male assistant’s jacket, causing a scuffle.
The driver said the boy ultimately went into his home and came out moments later with a firearm. The driver told police the boy chased the bus down the street carrying the firearm.
Lillie Spain, Matthew’s mother, said Wednesday she knows her son has behavioral problems but that Matthew is not totally at fault in the incident.
Lillie Spain, and her daughter Kenita Spain, said Matthew has no access to a firearm and did not chase the school bus down the street threatening anyone.
Kenita Spain said she came out of the house shortly after the altercation between her brother and the bus driver, and the bus was already gone. Matthew, she said, was still home unarmed and not chasing the bus.
The Spain family also points to the video taken with a camera phone on the bus. The video shows Matthew, the driver and the assistant in a chaotic scene that turned physical at the bus entrance. Verbal insults and foul language could be heard coming from Matthew and the school-bus employees.
The video did not show Matthew going into his house or emerging with a firearm. The Spain family said Matthew had been arguing with other students on the bus last week and asked a friend to record any problems he might have on the bus.
Community Busing, which contracts for some busing with the Youngstown City School District, refused to comment on the matter or its policies for drivers and assistants Wednesday, saying the incident is still under investigation.
John T. Allen, city schools ombudsman, did not return calls made to his office Wednesday but earlier in the week did say the school district is looking into the matter. Superintendent Wendy Webb was unavailable to comment.
Lillie Spain said she understands that her son was wrong for using foul language and being disruptive, but she said the actions of the driver and assistant also are questionable.
She said parts of the video show the bus driver cursing at her son, and other parts of the video show the assistant grabbing and fighting with the boy. She said that is totally out of line.
“She [the bus driver] actually pulled him up, put her hands on my son. The assistant hit him, and I took him [Matthew] to the hospital and everything. You are not supposed to do that. If anything, she should have stopped and called the police,” Lillie Spain said.
Kenita Spain said her family is not saying Matthew is innocent, but they want the driver and assistant to be disciplined for their part in the incident.
“I know he is not an angel, but about what was reported, this video shows otherwise. He is bad but not this time,” Kenita Spain said.
The video shows Matthew struggling with the bus assistant and then standing in the door of the bus refusing to move and trying to use a cell phone to call his sister to come outside. Kenita Spain said Matthew thought he was being threatened and tried to reach a family member.
The video goes on to show Matthew involved in a second physical altercation with the bus assistant when he would not move from the bus door. Punches were thrown during the second altercation.
Lillie Spain said she plans to contact an attorney about the situation.