A Fayette County paraeducator “violently punched” a special needs student in the face on a school bus in 2015, the child’s mother alleges in a lawsuit.
The school district terminated paraeducator James Coleman after the incident, which is shown on a bus videotape provided to the Herald-Leader by an attorney for the child’s family.
Coleman had been assigned by Fayette County Public Schools to help Emma Salomon’s then-12-year-old daughter on a daily basis, Salomon said in a complaint filed April 28 in Fayette Circuit Court against Coleman and the school district.
The lawsuit said that on April 30, 2015, as Coleman and the child were preparing to exit a school bus and enter a school building, Coleman engaged in a loud conversation with school employees that included handclapping, which triggered the girl’s uncontrollable movements or tics.
As a result, the girl “reacted as she usually does with a physical outburst,” the complaint said.
Given his assignment, Coleman was acutely aware of the girl’s uncontrollable movements and habits given his lengthy experiences with her over the several preceding months, the lawsuit said. The girl, then a student at Crawford Middle School, is identified in the lawsuit as “Y.C.”
“Rather than employing appropriate response mechanisms, James Coleman violently punched the minor child in the face causing significant damage,” the complaint said. Two of the girl’s teeth were knocked out, according to the mother’s attorney, Thomas L. Todd.
Coleman was charged in 2015 with fourth-degree assault, minor injury, in connection with the incident, but was found not guilty in a jury trial in July 2016, court records show.
Shameka O’Neil, a Louisville attorney who represented Coleman in the criminal case, called the lawsuit a “ travesty.”
“We do believe strongly that he had no intention to harm” the child, O’Neil said. The child struck Coleman first, O’Neil said, and he was defending himself.
Fayette County school board documents show that Coleman was terminated by the school district on May 21, 2015.
School district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said Tuesday she would not comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit says that the child is entitled to compensation for medical expenses, bodily injury, physical impairment, pain and suffering, mental anguish, inconvenience, disfigurement, disability, punitive, “and all other damages to be proven at a trial.”
“In this case you have a minor who was...special needs who was attacked by the person employed in Fayette County to keep her safe,” said Todd, the mother’s attorney, in a Herald-Leader interview Tuesday.