Connie Clark, a former bus matron, took the stand Monday to protest to a Brooklyn courtroom that she did not abuse a severely autistic boy on her school bus, the New York Post reported.
In the Sept. 30, 2005 incident, PJ Rossi, then 7, banged his head against the window and seat of Clark’s school bus, according to Clark’s testimony.
Rossi’s mother, suspecting mistreatment, had left a tape recorder in PJ’s backpack that day. On the recording, played in court, Clark calls PJ a “knucklehead” and either a “crazy” or “cranky” kid, the former according to the prosecution and the latter according to the defense.
The Rossis contend that PJ’s development slowed as a result of his treatment on the bus.
The case was dismissed in 2009 after the prosecution failed to take action on the matter for three years. After two appeals, the case reopened last year on the grounds that the delay in action was an honest mistake due to documents mailed to an outdated address, according to the Post.
When the case reopened, Clark’s lawyer, Peter Tilem stated that the tape recording, formerly inadmissible, would probably be played in court, according to CBS News.
On the recording, Clark tells the shrieking child to “shut up” and “knock it off.” Clark told the court yesterday that she had a migraine headache on the day in question, and that her words “just slipped out.”
In his opening statement, the Rossis’ lawyer, Thomas McManus, said that ““PJ endured 35 minutes of taunting, of mimicking his crying, of saying, ‘You want a cupcake, PJ?’ All the while, PJ is bashing his head against the side window of the bus.”
In addition to the criminal charges against Clark, the Rossis have also filed a suit against the Department of Education and the Atlantic Express bus company.
Although Clark and bus driver Robert Fischetti — who allegedly called PJ a "phony . . . sack of s- - -" — were employees of the bus company, Atlantic Express lawyer Jeffrey Liebowitz said that the city should not have put a bus matron in a position requiring paraprofessional skills.
“Connie Clark was trained to get a kid onto a bus and buckle a seatbelt,” he said. “She was not trained what to do when a kid is slamming his head over and over.”
Clark also said yesterday that she did not have the knowledge to cope with a child of PJ’s needs. She testified that she attempted to placate PJ with a pillow — a gift from his mother — and tried to keep him from hitting himself by covering his hands with oven mitts.
Fired following the incident, Clark took a misdemeanor plea to endangering the welfare of a child last year.