BY DAVID BREEN
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL / MCT
LAKELAND – A 70-year-old former school-bus attendant faces trial for child abuse after she beat and bit a teen she said had bullied her.
A camera on the bus captured the incident, which happened June 2 on a school bus serving Lakeland Senior High School. In the video, Hattie Yvonne Branch, who is listed as 4-foot-7 in her arrest report, confronts the much taller 14-year-old boy, striking, biting and wrestling with him.
Branch was apparently set off by the teen, who was playing around with a younger boy on the bus. The teen flips the younger boy over a seat, and the boy’s feet hit Branch, who then says, “You did it on purpose!”
Bitten in self-defense
The bus driver and other students can be heard trying to stop Branch from attacking the boy. When asked why she bit the boy, Branch told Lakeland police that she acted in self-defense.
“I was told by my supervisor that I could use the force necessary to protect myself when attacked,” she is quoted as saying in the arrest report.
The teen told police that while he had threatened and cursed at Branch in the past, he had not provoked her on the day of the attack.
Branch was charged with child abuse, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison, said Chip Thullbery, a spokesman for the State Attorney’s Office in Polk County.
Lost her job
The police report notes that the teen had two separate bite marks on his back.
Branch has yet to go to trial. She has a pretrial conference scheduled for later this month, Thullbery said.
She retired June 30 “in lieu of termination,” according to Fred Murphy, assistant superintendent for support services for Polk schools.
Branch had worked for the district as a school-bus attendant since June 2002. She is ineligible to return to work at the district, Murphy said.