As of early Thursday, off-duty Polk County deputies are now riding 12 school buses that deliver students to Polk alternative education schools.
The deputies will provide additional security to students following an incident Monday, May 12 on a bus that resulted in one student’s assault and the arrest of two others.
According to Winter Haven police reports, two alleged gang members from Winter Haven assaulted a third student and knocked the youth unconscious.
The victim was on the bus from Don Woods Opportunity School in Winter Haven when he allegedly was attacked by Christopher Dawayne Lewis, 15, and Jo Terious Lee Denmark, 14, both in Winter Haven.
Dorsey reportedly was sitting near the front of the school bus, resting against the window, with Lewis seated in the seat behind. The attack occurred when the bus was stopped at Fourth Street and Avenue K SW.
Police said Lewis told fellow bus riders to get their cellphones out to record the ensuing assault, then licked his hand and smacked the victim. The victim then stood to see who had slapped him and was struck again by Denmark. As a bus attendant and a student went to the victims aid, the two assailants fled off the bus.
Paramedics were summoned and removed the unconscious victim from the bus, but he regained consciousness and appeared to suffer no lasting ill effects. The two who allegedly assaulted the victim were subsequently arrested on battery and assault charges. Police said they were associated with a gang and claimed the assault was in retaliation for an earlier incident involving the victim.
This past Thursday, Superintendent of Schools Kathryn LeRoy said that she was immediately apprised of the incident and, working with Safe Schools Supervisor and Sheriff’s Department Capt. Loyd Stewart, decided to put deputies on the buses that serve the district’s alternative schools.
“We have to do everything we can to protect our students,” LeRoy said. “I immediately spoke with Capt. Stewart and we set the wheels in motion to get off-duty deputies on those buses.”
Stewart said that gang activities were closely monitored by school resource officers and area law enforcement agencies.
“When we learn about a student’s gang affiliation or alleged affiliation,” Stewart said, “we make sure everyone knows about it.”
He added that the officers in the schools coordinate information with gang units in their respective departments or the PCSO’s Office Gang Unit.
“Any time a gang member is involved in criminal activity, it can bleed over into the school system,” Stewart said. “There is always that danger of association and we try to stay on top of it.”
The deputies will be paid an estimated $25 per hour, but Stewart wasn’t sure of the exact amount. He also was not sure where the funds to pay for the additional protection would be found. LeRoy also said she was not sure where in the school district’s budget the funds would be allocated, but added, “We’ll get it from somewhere. This is an issue of the safety of our children and we’ll do whatever it takes to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”
Every school bus in the district’s fleet is equipped with video cameras, so LeRoy confirmed that in addition to the incident being filmed by student cellphones, the district had the assault on tape.
“We have it on a CD,” she said and added that it would be shared with investigators.
Both of those arrested had been involved in criminal activity prior to Monday’s incident, police said. One youth was suspended from riding the bus, but LeRoy said district policies mandated that any student at a school bus stop must be allowed to board the bus and cannot be abandoned at a stop.
LeRoy also said the district was investigating ways to ensure that bus riders are properly identified when boarding a school bus and will be investigating means to deal with students at bus stops who have been expelled from the bus or from classes.