A Morgan County school bus driver has been arrested and charged with two counts of simple battery after being caught on video pushing two young students during a dispute on Friday, Sept. 9.
James O’Neil, a bus driver with the Morgan County Charter School System since 2020, was arrested on Friday, Sept. 16, and spent the day in the Morgan County Detention Center before bonding out to await trial.
After the video, filmed by a student who witnessed the event, was uploaded to Facebook and went viral, O’Neil was fired from the school system earlier this week as local law enforcement investigated the matter.
“The investigation resulted in the arrest of James O’Neil on two counts of simple battery,” said Morgan County Chief Deputy Keith Howard. “While this was not a complex investigation, it was complicated by the allegation that the incident was perceived as being racially motivated.”
Howard said the investigators reviewed three separate videos of the incident, two filmed by students aboard the bus and the official footage from the bus security camera.
Nene and Blake Carter, the children’s parents, credit the community and online pressure for the O’Neil’s firing and arrest.
“We are very relieved that charges were filled and that no other parents have to worry about the safety of their children when it comes to Mr. O’Neil.” said a joint statement from the Carters. “We really appreciate the NAACP for all their support and assistance and also the support from the community.”
The parents of the siblings, aged 6 and 10, claimed the incident was racially-motivated and had complained about the same bus driver harassing their children in the past. O’Neil is an older white male and the Carter children are black. The children involved have been permanently pulled out of the school systems by their parents.
“Investigators took additional time to investigate all the facts to include consulting with prosecutors in the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit…Investigators could not establish a nexus that the incident was racially motivated.”
Howard said while a racial component is possible, investigators could not determine one based on the audio of the videos they reviewed.
O’Neil will now await a court date to adjudicate the charges and make a plea.
The controversy all began on Friday, Sept. 9, when Morgan County students from the primary school began boarding the bus for the ride home.
According to Nene Carter, the mother of the children who were pushed, O’Neil allegedly told her six-year-old son to sit in the back of the bus, despite the fact that primary school students usually sit in the front of the bus away from the older high school students riding the bus in the back.
The 12-second video that went viral on social media shows the bus driver standing over the small child while pushing the boy back into his seat near the front of the bus. The 10-year-old sister is standing next to the bus driver trying to reach out for her brother. The girl shouts, “Stop pushing my brother,” as the bus driver is seen repeatedly pushing the crying boy back into the seat.
“Shut your mouth,” the bus driver says to the girl as he continues pushing the little boy.
The girl asks again for him to stop pushing her brother when the bus driver appears to put his hands on the girl. The girl tells the bus driver to “get your hands off” when the bus driver suddenly pushes her, causing the girl to stumble backwards. The bus driver then says to her, “What a pain in the neck you guys are. Get back there.”
“I don’t understand why he told him to sit in the back of the bus being that’s where the high schoolers are back there and the primary [students] normally sit right behind the bus driver,” said Carter.
According to Carter, once the bus driver began pushing her son, he began crying and called out for his big sister to help him.
Carter said she is unhappy with how the school system initially handled the situation and believes O’Neil was only terminated because of the public pressure resulting from the videos going viral online.
“We feel like he was terminated because the story got more coverage than the Morgan County Charter School System would have liked,” said Carter. “It was rumored that they were just going to send him to be retrained.”
The Carters also claim that the school system’s transportation manager, Alicia Lord, did not take complaints against O’Neil seriously in the past or in the latest incident caught on video.
The Carters claim Lord ignored multiple complaints against this particular bus driver in the past from multiple families.
Lord declined to comment, citing that the matter is currently confidential due to an ongoing investigation involving personnel.
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