Video footage from a Buffalo school bus refutes a young boy’s claims that he was sexually assaulted in December while on the bus home from a Catholic school, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
Investigators have retrieved the surveillance footage from the day of the alleged bus incident and found nothing on the video to substantiate that the 6-year-old accuser was sexually molested by an older student.
“The videotape does not support the allegations of abuse,” the source said.
The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo echoed that stance Tuesday.
“Our investigation of the allegation of abuse, including a review of the videotape, does not support the claim of abuse,” the diocese said in a statement.
The Buffalo Public Schools – which provide transportation for students attending diocesan schools – also refuted the claims, but stopped short of providing details.
This latest twist in the high-profile case came to light Tuesday in response to comments by State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo. Kennedy announced that the state Education Department will launch an investigation into the recent allegations of sexual abuse on Buffalo school buses. The December claim followed an accusation of a similar incident a month earlier.
After Kennedy’s announcement, the city school district then released a statement of its own.
“While we have evidence that refutes the allegations cited in Senator Kennedy’s letter, we are awaiting the outcome of a full investigation by the Buffalo Police Department on these same matters,” said Kevin J. Eberle, the district’s chief operating officer.
The diocese responded soon after.
This was the first time the diocese and the school district have publicly discredited the claim of sexual assault made by the boy’s mother.
The boy came home Dec. 2 from his Catholic school on the West Side and said he was forced to perform a sexual act on a 12-year-old boy while on the bus ride home, his mother claimed. She also accused the 12-year-old of performing a sexual act on her son.
The allegation became public in January when a Buffalo parent group filed a complaint on behalf of the mother asking the federal government to step in and require aides on all school buses in the City of Buffalo. A public uproar ensued, with city lawmakers pressuring the Board of Education to place aides on every city school bus.
In fact, the District Parent Coordinating Council said that there was a sense of urgency because a separate but similar complaint had been made two months prior on another school bus without an aide.
In that case, a 9-year-old third-grader from a South Buffalo elementary school was physically assaulted and possibly forced to commit a sexual act on one of his two fifth-grade attackers while on a bus without an aide, the mother of that child reported.
However, it was unclear Tuesday whether the school district had evidence refuting that incident from November.
A Buffalo police spokesman would say only that both cases remain under investigation.
In the case from December, video footage from the bus has been a source of contention since the beginning.
The mother said, at first, that she was told the video didn’t show anything. Then, she said, the school told her that there was no video. One official later said the video from the bus had “timed out.”
“If they had evidence that refutes the allegations, that should have been forthcoming right in the beginning,” said Samuel L. Radford, III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council. “Until we know the whole story, we give the benefit of the doubt to the child.”
The parent council filed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
Whatever happens with this case, Radford said, the parent council will continue pressing for an aide on each bus. Otherwise, he said, the situation is not safe, particularly when there’s commingling on buses between younger and older students.
“The bottom line for us is we want to err on the side of student safety,” Radford said.
Kennedy had previously called for a state investigation after the second bus allegation surfaced.
He released a letter Tuesday from Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who said she has directed the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute – which reviews allegations of transportation waste, fraud and abuse – to investigate.
“We have a responsibility to ensure that our students’ safety is a top priority,” Kennedy said in a statement, “and if the safety standards of our school buses are found to have been inadequate in this circumstance, I trust that the commissioner will expand her investigation to look at the greater gaps and the need statewide.”