He had reached the last step and was about to jump off the bus when he felt a tug at his back.
A line of kids had already filed off ahead of him and at least five more had been standing behind him. But suddenly the bus lurched forward. And his body was pinned, dangling outside while his backpack was stuck in the door.
The tires rotated inches from his white sneakers as the road rolled below him. He tried not to wiggle or pull loose, afraid that if one of the straps on his bag broke he’d be crushed under the wheels.
After about 150 feet — and while students yelled at the driver to stop — the man pulled over again in front of West Point Junior High in northern Utah and opened the doors, dropping the boy on the sidewalk and allowing the rest of the kids in line to shuffle out.
The boy, 14 years old and a seventh grader, was the only student of color on the bus. His family is now suing the school district, its transportation director and the driver for racial discrimination, saying he intentionally caught the boy in the door. They say there have been at least three other reports that the driver, John Naisbitt, targeted multiracial students before this. And while Naisbitt was never disciplined in connection with those prior allegations, they added, he quietly retired after the newest complaint.
Brenda Mayes, the boy’s mother, is representing him in a civil rights lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, where the minor is not named. At an afternoon news conference, she shared video that she got from Davis School District showing the Feb. 4 incident.
The footage is time stamped at 7:59 a.m. and shows her son filing off the bus after 13 other kids, all white. It appears that the driver intentionally shuts the doors as he goes through — the video shows Naisbitt’s hand moving toward a lever in the right corner as the boy approaches — snapping his backpack inside and moving forward as he hangs outside. About five other students are still standing and sway as the bus takes off. One girl seems to try to help the boy.
It lasts about 20 seconds.
“I was blown away. I was angry,” Mayes said at her lawyer’s office while her son and his younger brother sat quietly in the back of the room. “The driver knew what he was doing.”
The school district emailed a written response, saying it has not yet been served with the lawsuit. But, spokeswoman Shauna Lund added, “When issues of discrimination are raised at any time, they are investigated thoroughly. We take any claims of racial discrimination seriously and do not tolerate any form of racial discrimination in our schools.”
Lund confirmed that Naisbitt no longer works for the district. She did not respond to a question asking whether he was fired or allowed to retire. Naisbitt did not respond to a request for comment from The Salt Lake Tribune, but when asked by FOX 13 whether he was racist he said: “Not at all. No. Look at my dog. He’s as black as could be."
Naisbitt told FOX13 that eight buses were lined up behind his when he warned the students he would begin to drive forward. He says the allegations against him are retaliatory, made because he disciplined the boy’s brother.
“I didn’t see him in there,” Naisbitt said. “If I had, I would have stopped.”
Days after the incident, the lawsuit said, district Superintendent Reid Newey wrote in an email to Mayes: “We deeply regret the actions of our employee and will be addressing this issue with urgency.”
The student population in Davis School District, overall, is 83% white while West Point Junior High, where the boy attends school, is 84%. According to 2018 demographics kept by the state, 39 kids there are multiracial like Mayes’ son; she said she is white and the boy’s father is black.
The district faced criticisms earlier this year when one of its teachers told a Catholic student to wipe off the Ash Wednesday cross from his forehead. In 2012, administrators there were sued for deciding to remove a book about lesbian mothers from shelves of their elementary school libraries.
In the case involving her son, Mayes’s lawsuit claims, the district has known about allegations of discrimination and harassment by the driver since at least September 2017. Her son was on the bus then and going to West Point Elementary, which shares the same route as the junior high. He remembers Naisbitt not stepping in when a white sixth grade boy attacked a third grade girl, who was a student of color. Mayes’ son tried to stop it, and the driver yelled at him for standing up on the bus.
The family reported that interaction then, and Mayes said administrators didn’t act. Other parents have also told the district and its transportation director that Naisbitt has pulled off to the side of the road and left students sitting in the bus for 30 minutes, according to the lawsuit. He’s also allegedly called some of them “stupid idiots.”
Additionally, in October, Mayes’ younger son and his friend waited to get on the bus after school. Both are multiracial. Naisbitt shut the door on her son’s friend, she said, leaving him with scratches and bruises, and then tried to shut it on her son, too. That incident was also reported. And the two boys refused to ride the bus after that.
“All of this was based upon race. It was racial discrimination. It was racial assault,” said the family’s lawyer, Robert Sykes. “And the district did nothing.”
Mayes said she had hoped that the driver’s route would be changed after some of those earlier incidents, but it was not. After her son was dragged in the bus, she expected the district to investigate and change its policies, she said. But initially, officials told her he would still be driving her son home that afternoon.
He wasn’t put on leave until she objected, the suit said. And a criminal investigation wasn’t pursued until she reached out to the county sheriff’s office, it said. That is still pending.
Later in the week after the incident, she emailed the superintendent to ask that the transportation director not be in charge of handling her complaint because he allegedly ignored the previous concerns. She accuses him in the lawsuit of trying to stop charges from being filed against the driver, and of writing over video from the October 2018 incident with her younger son.
“I didn’t want to take legal action. I just wanted to see them do something,” Mayes said. “When my son called me that morning, he was shaky and was on the verge of tears. I was in disbelief. I couldn’t even comprehend how it could happen.”
Mayes added that she “didn’t believe that people were like this.” She worries her son could have been killed.
“He should be able to just get on the bus and go to school and have a regular day.”
Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune and FOX 13 are content-sharing partners.