|Former School Bus Attendant Re-Arrested On Additional Abuse Charges; review of video shows more abuse
PCSO Press Release:
On May 29, 2019, PCSO Special Victims Unit detectives arrested 43-year-old Juanita Tappin of Lakeland and charged her with one new count of child abuse (F-3) and one new count of abuse of disabled adult (F-3), after a review of 30 days’ worth of bus video that showed she abused two other victims, a special needs child and an adult. The review of the previous bus video also revealed other incidents of abuse on previously identified victims, showing an ongoing course of criminal conduct.
According to the affidavit, Tappin was previously arrested on May 9, 2019, for 6 felony counts of abuse on disabled adults and special needs children on the school bus where she worked as an attendant. Tappin was seen abusing the victims on bus video from May 7, 2019.
After her arrest, detectives reviewed the school bus video for the previous 30 days. The video clearly depicts Tappin striking two of the previously identified victims on several other occasions during the month of April 2019.
A review of the video also revealed two additional victims not previously identified. One of those victims is a disabled adult – Tappin struck him on the face with her hand. Another victim is a special needs child – Tappin struck him in the head with a plastic bottle and the metal end of a seatbelt.
Most of the bus riders are non-verbal and unable to speak about the abuse.
Per Florida State Statute 119, we are not releasing the bus video, as it would identify the victims of this type of abuse.
“We were hoping that we wouldn’t see any more abuse when we went back and reviewed a month’s worth of bus video, but we knew in our guts that we probably would. There are no words to describe how sickened we are to see this woman prey upon these helpless, most innocent of victims.” – Grady Judd, Sheriff
Tappin is being booked into the Polk County Jail on the above-mentioned charges, where she will be held until a first appearance hearing on Thursday, May 30, 2019.
According to Polk County Public Schools, Tappin was suspended without pay on May 15, 2019 and she will be terminated at the June 18, 2019, school board meeting.
PREVIOUS RELEASE FROM MAY 9, 2019:
On Thursday, May 9, 2019, Polk County Sheriff’s Special Victims Unit detectives arrested 43-year-old Juanita Tappin of Ridgeglen Circle East in Lakeland and charged her with 3 counts child abuse (F-3), and 3 counts abuse of a disabled adult (F-3).
According to the affidavit, the investigation began after a special needs child who rides the bus to Doris A. Sanders Learning Center reported to school staff that she had been hit by her bus attendant, Tappin. The school nurse documented two red welts on the victim’s face.
Detectives interviewed the victim and reviewed the bus video, which revealed Tappin striking the victim 11 separate times by popping her with a rubber band and hitting her on her face and neck. While reviewing the video, detectives also saw Tappin punch other victims, strike other victims with a hard plastic seatbelt cutter tool, and strike victims with a rubber band by snapping it on their faces and necks.
The victims are three disabled children and three disabled adults. The abuse occurred while the victims were riding the bus to school.
Some of the victims’ disabilities hinder them from being able to report the abuse, as they are non-verbal.
Most of the students who ride the bus are non-verbal, and unable to elaborate on what they witnessed and/or were subjected to. Some of the students are strapped into their seats with harnesses, and unable to physically move away from Tappin during the abuse.
“This suspect will be held accountable for her reprehensible abuse against the most vulnerable of victims. In the video, the innocent children can be seen cowering in fear. She should never have access to children again.” – Grady Judd, Sheriff
No more information about the victims will be released, per F.S.S. 119. The video will not be released, per F.S.S. 119.
During an interview with detectives, the suspect denied hitting the students, and said she was acting in a “playful manner.”
None of the abuse could be described as disciplinary – all of the abuse was intentional, malicious, and unprovoked.
Tappin has been booked into the Polk County Jail and is being held on no bond until a first appearance hearing at 1:00 p.m. on Friday, May 10, 2019. She will be housed at Central County Jail in Bartow.
According to Polk County Public Schools, Juanita Tappin is on paid administrative leave at this time. She was hired on January 27, 2014. There is no past disciplinary action in her personnel file. Her annual salary is $13,856.
“We count on our transportation staff to be courteous, professional and caring. Our students deserve peaceful rides free of aggravation and unkindness. The unacceptable allegations against this bus attendant are very troubling. If true, I will recommend that this employee be fired. We are conducting an internal investigation, and the employee has been placed on administrative leave.” –Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd