The mother of two Georgia children who a school bus driver assaulted is calling for harsher penalties for the man who abused them.
Nequania Carter believes James O’Neil received a “slap on the wrist” from authorities after he was caught on video shoving her two children who were under his care on a school bus earlier this month. She also thinks the crime was racially motivated, but investigators said they “could not establish a nexus” to support her claim.
O’Neil was arrested for two counts of simple battery on Friday, Sept. 16. The district fired him shortly after the incident. Simple battery is a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to one year in prison. Because O’Neil committed the crime as an employee, it could be escalated to a high or aggravated nature, which means he could be subject to a $5,000 fine instead of $1,000.
“The charges are enough to say, ‘we did something, so now they can ease up on it,'” Carter told Atlanta Black Star. “No, it is not enough.”
O’Neil is seen in the viral video pushing Carter’s 6-year-old on Sept. 9 before his sister intervenes. The driver then tells the 10-year girl to return to her seat and later threatens to take her phone. Carter said the driver wanted the boy to sit in the back, but that area is reserved for high school students. At one point, the small boy who was shoved over in the seat appeared frantic.
The children’s parents have since removed them from the mostly white Morgan County school system and placed them in a more diverse school district.
Morgan County Chief Deputy Keith Howard said the investigation into the incident “was complicated by the allegation that the incident was perceived as being racially motivated.” Investigators looked at three videos. Two of the videos were recorded by others students aboard the bus. They also reviewed official footage from the bus security camera.
Carter showed Atlanta Black Star a second video where O’Neil and Carter’s daughter are in another dispute about where her little brother is on the bus. The man mocks how the girl speaks. He also walks past a white student who is standing on the bus and does not reprimand him, Carter pointed out. She believes her children were singled out because of their race.
Howard did not rule out racial intent, but he said it was not evident in the footage.
“Investigators took additional time to investigate all the facts to include consulting with prosecutors in the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit,” Howard said. “Investigators could not establish a nexus that the incident was racially motivated.”
Carter said she is not surprised that the racial component is being “swept under the rug.” The Ku Klux Klan held one of its landmark events in Madison in 2019, she recalled.
The mother also thinks that O’Neil should have been charged with cruelty to children for every student on the bus. She is also calling for the school’s transportation manager, Alicia Lord, to be terminated or resign for allegedly downplaying the ordeal and protecting O’Neil, who Carter said was no stranger to complaints.
Under Georgia law, a person “supervising the welfare of or having immediate charge or custody of a child under the age of 18 commits the offense of cruelty to children in the first degree when such person willfully deprives the child of necessary sustenance to the extent that the child’s health or well-being is jeopardized.”
Cruelty to children can be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony. It is considered a first-degree offense “when such person maliciously causes a child under the age of 18 cruel or excessive physical or mental pain” and can be a third-degree offense if “the primary aggressor intentionally allows a child under the age of 18 to witness the commission of a forcible felony, battery, or family violence battery.”
“This right here was unfortunate. It was negligence,” Carter said.
The video shows O’Neil pushing the girl at least once and her brother twice in a bus full of other students.
“What a pain in the neck you guys are,” O’Neil said.
While Carter’s children are adjusting to their new school, Carter has taken a pay cut to be a bus driver at their school to ensure they are safe. She wants to use the incident to create an initiative connecting parents and bus drivers since she has been on both sides.
“We’re trying to form a movement in bridging the gap between bus drivers and parents,” Carter said. “If anybody’s willing to help on this journey that knows anything about anything, we will be more than willing to take some help.”