By Andrea Flores
BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4)– A former school bus aide who pleaded guilty to assaulting an autistic student on his way to and from school was sentenced to jail on Friday.
Monica Burke, 52, was sentenced to 20 months behind bars in Boulder on Friday. She will also have to spend five years on probation and perform 360 hours of community service.
Burke was charged with kicking and hitting the 20-year-old Longmont student as he was taken to and from a Denver school specializing in autism. Police say she also sprayed aerosol disinfectant in his face.
School bus surveillance video shows the abuse student Shiva Rai, who has autism, suffered day after day.
Prosecutors say Burke intentionally attacked the student and sprayed Lysol in his face during a seven-day period last summer.
“She betrayed our trust, she betrayed the nature of her job, she betrayed basic human morals, and there’s no other word for Monica Burke but evil,” said Laxmi Rai, Shiva’s sister. “Only an evil person can kick, punch, slap, chemically poison and torture someone like Shiva.”
Burke worked as a bus aide for the St. Vrain Valley School District.
Rai’s civil attorneys believe behavioral changes in the autistic student indicate the abuse happened long before it was reported.
“Shiva was the only person of color on that school bus. There were other autistic students on that bus and Shiva was the only one who was targeted,” said Qusair Mohamedbhai, a civil attorney for the student.
Burke claims depression and PTSD from being raped as a teenager caused her to lash out for the wrong reasons.
“I’m so sorry for my actions. Not only am I very sorry, but I’m very ashamed and very embarrassed of myself,” Burke said in court. “I truly am not that type of person that I saw on the videotapes.”
Burke’s attorney says she’s ready to serve her time.
“I am proud of Monica for owning up to her mistake, and facing everything that comes with it without hesitation,” said Defense Attorney Tanner Spracklen. “Her family is also proud of her.”
“The defendant was in a position of trust with regard to the victim, she had special obligations to take care of him, and so the conduct in the video was very concerning to us,” said Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett. “I’ve seen a number of cases involving victims with various impairments of one sort or another, and I’ve seen a number of cases with victims with autism, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this.”
St. Vrain Valley School District has agreed to make changes to their policies and procedures. They also reached a settlement with the family for $3.85 million, in conjunction with an insurance company.
“There have been a number of changes that the school has enacted as part of this case, those include things like greater monitoring of students, longer retention periods of video, and most important a higher level of education with dealing with disabled and autistic community,” said Rai’s civil attorney. “The family is most grateful for these types of changes because their primary goal is to ensure that this type of harm that this type of suffering doesn’t happen to another individual without a voice.”
William Hall Jr., another ex-employee of the St. Vrain Valley School District, faces trial for not reporting the abuse as he was driving the bus.