QUEENSBURY -- A judge spared Marjorie Jones jail time Monday for placing duct tape over the mouth of a disabled girl more than a year ago, but the former Corinth Central School District bus driver now faces a civil lawsuit from the victim’s family that also targets the district.
Jones, 63, was sentenced to 3 years of probation and 100 hours of community service Monday by Queensbury Town Justice Michael Muller, who convicted her of child endangerment, a misdemeanor, after a bench trial in May. Jones could have spent up to 1 year in the county jail for mistreating Angelina Kio, then a 7-year-old passenger on Jones’ bus who is unable to speak and has the cognitive abilities of a toddler.
“I don’t believe incarceration is appropriate here,” Muller said, citing Jones’ lack of criminal history as he rejected a request from Assistant District Attorney Matt Burin for Jones to receive at least a brief jail term.
As she left Queensbury Town Court Monday morning, Jones was served with a lawsuit by attorney Kurt Mausert, who represents parents Sabrina and Michael Kio, of Corinth. The suit seeks at least $250,000 from Jones and the school district.
Jones refused to comment after she was handed the lawsuit. Her attorney, David Klingebiel, said he would not comment on the suit because he hadn’t had the opportunity to read it.
When given the opportunity to speak in court, Jones apologized for her actions in the winter of the 2010-2011 school year but said she intended to cause no harm.
She said placing the tape over the girl’s mouth didn’t obstruct her breathing.
“I am sorry for what I did. It was a playful thing,” she said.
Jones testified at trial she placed a small piece of duct tape briefly over the girl’s mouth to distract her when she was acting up and yelling. She said on the witness stand she was “entertaining” Angelina Kio and that the girl was laughing.
Prosecutors presented evidence to show Jones disabled a surveillance camera on the bus that would have filmed her actions, and a bus attendant, Lynda McCasland, testified it wasn’t the first time Jones had mistreated the girl. Shortly after the duct-tape incident, Jones asked whether Angelina Kio might ever learn to speak, McCasland testified.
“That shows the defendant knew at that time what she did was wrong,” Burin told the judge Monday in arguing for a jail sentence. “What she was really saying was, ‘Do you think Angelina will ever tell on me?’”
He noted that a pre-sentencing report by the county’s probation department recommended jail time. Burin said Jones has not accepted responsibility for the crime.
“To her, this is all fun and games,” he said outside court. “To me and, I think, to the community, this is bullying in the extreme. She’s in a position of authority.”
Klingebiel argued Jones has acknowledged her actions since State Police began investigating her a year ago. Jones resigned while under investigation after more than three decades with the school district.
“I’ve known her awhile, and I don’t think she meant to cause any harm,” Klingebiel said outside court.
The incident occurred in the parking lot of the Prospect Child & Family Center in Queensbury, where Jones transported Kio and a few other Corinth children with special needs.
As part of her sentence, Jones must also pay a $200 fine and abide by an order of protection keeping her from contacting the Kios.
The lawsuit against Jones and the school district had been promised by Mausert since the beginning of the case, regardless of its outcome. He called Jones’ actions “torture,” and said the district should be held accountable because testimony showed it had no policy in place for reporting abuse.
Superintendent Daniel Starr acknowledged the district had been served with the lawsuit but refused to comment on it.
According to the lawsuit, Angelina Kio “is unable to speak, is not toilet trained, has behavioral issues and, even though she is 7 years of age, has the approximate mental capabilities of a 2-year-old.” She also suffers from cancer, according to the lawsuit.
The suit claims Jones pulled the girl’s hair, slapped her and shoved snow in her face on various occasions. It alleges the abuse would have been prevented if the district monitored the vehicle’s surveillance camera and adequately trained its employees.
It also alleges the girl’s treatment by Jones triggered emotional outbursts from her that caused a “loss of harmony” in the Kio household.
Klingebiel said after the sentencing he was unsure if he would file a notice of appeal, which must be filed within 30 days.