Wisconsin bus driver recorded allegedly slapping disabled boy

MILWAUKEE -- Jacob Mutulo's parents couldn't understand why the 9-year-old with Down syndrome was suddenly hurting his dog and acting up on the school bus.

So the Mutulos slipped a tape recorder into Jacob's backpack last month in hopes of capturing his misbehavior so they could show it to his therapists.

What they heard on the tape would instead lead to the bus driver's arrest for allegedly slapping the boy and threatening him.

"I was ill. It made me sick," said the boy's father, Vince Mutulo.

The case has prompted state lawmakers to propose more frequent background checks for bus drivers. And the boy's parents want new laws to require cameras on school buses.

The driver, Brian Duchow, 28, has been charged with felony abuse of a child and disorderly conduct. He has been barred from driving buses with children while the case is pending.

On the tape, the driver can be heard shouting at Jacob because the boy is making bus engine noises, yelling and fiddling with his seat belt. At one point, the driver stops the bus, and what sounds like a hand slapping clothing can be heard.

Duchow admitted slapping the child in anger and hitting him in the leg, according to police. He told police he "did not wind up" when he slapped the boy and did not hit him very hard, "but also did not hit him very soft."

Duchow refused to speak to reporters after a court appearance this week.

'Tie you to a tree'

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Friday that the tape recorder also picked up an interim principal at Jacob's school telling the boy that she should "just tie you to a tree and leave you out here all day." School district officials said they are investigating.

Jacob has always had speech and behavioral problems because of Down syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but his parents knew something was seriously wrong when they saw him abusing his dog.

The Mutulos said they think what Jacob was going through on the bus caused his violent behavior. His father said Jacob started having problems when Duchow began driving his son's bus in September.

"Jacob was gaining ground educationally and speechwise, and everything just started going backward," his father said.

Victor Vieth, director of the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse in Alexandria, Va., said some of the 4,000 cases the center deals with each year involve parents videotaping child-care providers to check for abuse. He said he cannot recall another case in which a bus driver was tape-recorded.

State Rep. Christine Sinicki of Milwaukee said she plans to introduce a bill next week that would let parents request a background check on their child's bus driver if they suspect inappropriate behavior. The bill would also require the state to check all bus drivers' criminal records every five years, instead of the current eight.

Michael C. Horan, owner of Specialized Care Transport Inc., said Duchow had no criminal background when the company hired him in September. He said Duchow's family told him Duchow had been a coach for the Special Olympics.

"There were no warning signs whatsoever that he had a capability of acting as he did on that bus," Horan said.

The Mutulos have suggested lawmakers look into putting video cameras in buses as a way to prevent abuse.

Jacob now refuses to ride the bus, his family said. Vince Mutulo is confident his son will one day return to normal, but he thinks it might take some time to get over the stinging things people have said about Jacob's misbehavior during the past few months.

"He still asks us 'Good boy? Good boy?"' he said. "We have to reassure him, 'Yes, you're a good boy."'