SALT LAKE CITY — Brenda Mayes says she didn’t want to file a lawsuit.
She wanted the Davis School District to intervene on behalf of her sons, ages 11 and 13, who are mixed race and had experienced bullying and assaults by a school bus driver driven by “racial animus,” according to a civil rights lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court.
“I didn’t want to take legal action. I just wanted them to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Mayes said during a press conference Tuesday at the law offices of attorneys Robert Sykes and Alyson McAllister.
Despite multiple complaints lodged by parents with the school district dating back to 2017, which included requests that the bus driver be removed from the route, on Feb. 4, the driver allegedly closed the bus door on Mayes' son's backpack as he attempted to exit at West Point Junior High, trapping his backpack inside the bus with his body dangling outside of it, the complaint states.
"(The driver) then drove about 175 feet with Child Doe helplessly pinned to the outside of the door, near the wheel, and in mortal danger. (The driver) did this because of his animus toward persons of mixed race," the complaint states
When her son called Mayes to tell her what happened, “his voice was shaky and I could tell he was on the verge of tears,” court documents state. “He sounded terrified and embarrassed.”
"(The driver) then drove about 175 feet with Child Doe helplessly pinned to the outside of the door, near the wheel, and in mortal anger. (The driver) did this because of his animus toward persons of mixed race," the complaint states.
Her son told her he “felt pressure around his chest,” she recounted during the press conference.
“My initial thought was I’m glad he didn’t kill him. I’m glad he didn’t go under the wheels,” she said.
Mayes was told by school district officials that the driver would be on the job later that day for boy's return trip to his home. Mayes picked up her son and instructed him not to get on the bus that afternoon.
Mayes said she was "blown away" and "angry" that her son had been dragged by the bus after his backpack was trapped in the school bus doors, when "(the driver) suddenly and intentionally caused the doors to close," the lawsuit alleges.
Had the school district taken action on previous complaints against the driver, "this wouldn't have happened," she said.
The lawsuit said prior complaints about the driver over discriminatory actions taken against other mixed race students had been lodged with David Roberts, the school district's transportation director.
"Roberts deliberately ignored many complaints prior to the events of Feb. 4, 2019, wherein plaintiff Brenda Mayes and other persons complained of abusive behavior including racially driven assaultive and discriminatory conduct by (the bus driver) toward minor students such as Child Doe," the complaint states.
The prior complaints centered on other incidents that occurred as the driver delivered students to and from West Point Elementary and West Point Junior High School, which included closing the doors on two mixed race elementary students and taking no action when a sixth-grade boy who is white physically assaulted a mixed race third-grade girl on the bus.
"(The bus driver) pulled the bus to the side of the road, several times on the route home while he berated the students calling them names, such as stupid idiots," the complaint states.
It continues: "On Oct. 23, 2017, (Davis School District) was notified by one or more parents that (the driver) had pulled off to the side of the road on his afternoon route, refusing to take the students to their assigned stops. Many concerned parents had to drive to this location to pick up their children who had been waiting approximately 30 minutes."
Parents repeatedly reported these incidents to the school district, the document states.
"The Davis School District and transportation officials had absolute knowledge of prior racially motivated harassment, abuse and assaults by (the driver) going back to September 2017," the complaint states.
One parent "requested at a minimum (the bus driver) be removed from the route," according to the lawsuit.
Following the Feb. 4 incident, Mayes received an email from Davis School District Assistant Superintendent Craig Carter expressing sympathy for the events involving her and assurances that the school district had moved “swiftly and decisively” regarding the employee involved, according to the court complaint.
"In fact, there is no known disciplinary action toward (the bus driver). Plaintiff discovered that (the driver) had been allowed to 'retire,' and had not been terminated, as the school had indicated," court documents state.
Attempts to reach the bus driver for comment were not successful.
Davis School District spokeswoman Shauna Lund said she could not comment on the lawsuit because the Davis School District had not been served with it.
“However, when issues of discrimination are raised at any time, they are investigated thoroughly. The Davis School District takes any claims of racial discrimination seriously and does not tolerate any form of racial discrimination in our schools," Lund said.
The bus driver no longer works for Davis School District, she said.
Responding to the school district’s statement, Mayes said: “They're failing. They're failing."
When a parent takes their child to school, the district has a duty "to take care of them, to make sure they’re safe. That’s all I’ve been asking them to do. Make sure this doesn’t happen again. What have you been doing? Nothing,” she said.
Sykes added, “What does it take to get their attention?
"My goodness. If they don’t tolerate it, why did they tolerate it in this case?"
Mayes contacted law enforcement, which is conducting a criminal investigation, she said. As of Tuesday no criminal charges had been filed.
The lawsuit alleges violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution under the 1983 Civil Rights Act.
McAllister said the threshold under the 1983 act is similar because it addresses conduct that is race based and requires the plaintiffs to prove deliberate indifference on the part of the school district.
"The reason we've alleged that here and the reason we believe there was deliberate indifference is because of this long history of prior incidents … that racially based misconduct by the school bus driver that had been repeatedly reported to school district even a year before the February 2019 incident and the history of the school district doing nothing about it, doing only a cursory investigation or doing no investigation at all," she said.
The father of Mayes' younger son, following an incident when the bus driver allegedly attempted to close the doors on the elementary-school age son in October 2018, confronted the bus driver.
Two days later, the father "noticed (the driver) parked in the school bus outside the father's place of employment," the lawsuit states. The father reported the incident to the school district's transportation director who "acknowledged (the driver) was there in the school bus and laughed about the incident," court documents state.
The father said "it was not a comical situation," the documents state. The boy's father drove his child to school from that point forward, according to court documents.
The plaintiff seeks unspecified compensatory damages, payment of the "plaintiff's expenses incurred as a consequence of the race-based assault, harassment, discrimination and defendants’ failure to take meaningful corrective action."
It also seeks damages for "deprivation of equal access to the educational opportunities and benefits provided by Davis School District" as well as damages for "past, present and future emotional pain and suffering, ongoing mental anguish, loss of past, present and future enjoyment of life, and loss of future earnings and earning capacity."
The plaintiff also seeks injunctive relief "requiring defendants to comply with Title VI and the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause."