CAPITOL HEIGHTS, Md. - A Prince George's school bus aide has been officially charged amid allegations he molested special needs children on a bus.
Michael Patopie, 38, is charged with second-degree child abuse, sex offenses and assault involving two children who attend James Ryder Randall Elementary School in Clinton, Md.
Charging documents say the students involved in this case are 4 and 5 years old. Police were first made aware of the allegations on June 20 when they were contacted by the bus driver, who reported witnessing Patopie touching the students inappropriately. In August, the mother of one victim and the aunt of the other went to police with details about the alleged abuse.
According to charging documents released Tuesday, there is video evidence that shows Patopie sitting next to a student on the bus. Investigators believe he was inappropriately touching that student. It shows him doing the same, officials say, with a second student after the first student gets off the bus.
The documents also say the bus driver said she saw Patopie kiss one of the victims on the forehead while sitting on the bus. That victim's mother contacted police and told that her son reported "a man who rides his bus touched his penis." The boy's great aunt told police she noticed several times that the his pants were open when getting off the bus. The charging documents say Patopie was the only male aboard the victims' bus.
Detectives reviewed video captured on November 19, 2015 that shows Patopie sitting on the bus next to the second victim. The charging documents say it appears he is inappropriately touching the victim with his left hand, which is out of view of the camera. When that child was dropped off, the documents say Patopie is then seen sitting next to the first victim, making similar hand movements with his right hand out of view. Patopie also puts the child on his lap and kisses his forehead.
In an interview with police on Sept. 1, investigators say Patopie identifed himself in the video as the person in contact with the two victims.
Patopie, of Capitol Heights, Md., was taken into custody by deputies Tuesday morning. He is currently being held at the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections on $500,000 bond. If bond is posted, it would be on the condition that Patopie will not be allowed to have any contact with minors.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon to discuss the charges, a Prince George's County State's Attorney's Office spokesman called the situation "very concerning." He also said that the school system's first priority is the safety of its children.
But why did it take so long to bring charges when the first incident happened in November of last year?
“If there was any bit of lag time in notification, it certainly, I don’t believe, was anything intentional” said Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office spokesperson John Erzen. "Where we want to focus on right now is the fact that we are working together with the county police. We are working together with the school system to appropriately investigate this and to make sure that we are looking at everything, taking everything into consideration and that is where we are going forward."
“For this to take a year to come to the state’s attorney’s office, for this gentlemen to be charged, that means he was on that bus for a whole year and could have been molesting children that whole year,” said Charles Nichols, a father who claims that his child was on the bus Patopie was on. “Nothing was done.”
Nichols said his son was also abused on the bus, but the charges filed on Tuesday are not related to his son and he is unclear why that is.
No information was given about how many students were on the bus at the time of the incidents, and no other details in the case were given. The state's attorney's office said the case is still under investigation, and they will proceed looking into the possibility of any additional victims if evidence of that surfaces.
Prince George's County Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Dr. Kevin M. Maxwell released the following statement about his arrest:
“Prince George’s County Public Schools is aware of the arrest Tuesday of a transportation attendant. We are moving to immediately seek his termination. I am horrified by the nature of these crimes, sickened and angry that this individual may have preyed upon our students. We will cooperate fully with our law enforcement partners to ensure that he is held accountable. Our focus remains on providing all children with a quality education in a safe learning environment.”
Scott Peterson, the press secretary for Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker, said in a statement:
"Today’s announcement by the State’s Attorney’s Office that the school bus attendant in the Ryder Randall Elementary School case has been charged with child abuse is a strong statement that those who prey on our children will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
2016: A CHALLENGING YEAR FOR PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY SCHOOLS
It has been a challenging year for Prince George's County Schools after several situations surfaced concerning student safety. On September 21, Chief Of Staff George Margolies was relieved of his duties after an email he wrote regarding ongoing issues in the school system was leaked. The next day, school board member Edward Burroughs, III appeared on FOX 5 to call for the resignation of CEO Kevin Maxwell after questioning an alleged cover-up regarding the county's Head Start Program.
Prince George’s County Public Schools recently lost a $6.5 million federal grant that funded the county's Head Start program because of repeated allegations of Head Start teachers using harsh and unusual punishment on their students. In a federal report, teachers at James Ryder Randall Elementary School were cited for forcing children to hold heavy objects over their heads after they misbehaved during naptime.
Also earlier this year, 22-year-old Deonte Carraway, a former school aide at Judge Sylvania Woods Elementary School in Prince George’s County, was indicted on 270 child sex abuse and porn charges involving children.
Anyone with information in this case is urged to call the Prince George’s County Police Department’s Children and Vulnerable Adult Unit at 301-772-4930. Callers can remain anonymous by calling Crime Solvers at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477) or text “PGPD plus your message” to CRIMES (274637) on your cell phone or go to www.pgpolice.org and submit a tip online.