JASPER — Charges have been filed against five Hamilton County students in the beating of a fellow student on a school bus last month.
A viral video posted on social media showed the incident in which several students repeatedly struck the victim, who is a minor, on the bus Nov. 21.
Both the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office and the Hamilton County School District conducted investigations into the incident with Rex Mitchell, the superintendent of Hamilton County Schools calling it a “tragedy.”
“It was a very bad situation,” Mitchell said. “We absolutely do not condone this type of behavior and use of physical force between students.”
Mitchell said the district began its investigation as soon as the incident was reported. The HCSO also then investigated.
Following those investigations, the State Attorney’s Office in the Third Circuit filed battery charges against five other students.
“It was a terrible incident for the boy and our county,” Hamilton County Sheriff Harrell Reid said. “We will not tolerate this kind of behavior and we will prosecute these types of people as fully as we can.”
When the video was posted on social media, it said the attack stemmed from the victim wearing a hat supporting President Donald Trump.
According to Mitchell, the investigation showed no evidence that the victim was wearing the apparel at the time of the attack, nor that any previous display of supporting Trump lead to the incident.
Rather the incident began as verbal altercation between two students that escalated with others becoming involved, Mitchell said.
Foye Walker, an attorney representing the victim’s family, said the hat was worn two weeks prior to the incident and prompted harassment and bullying.
“On the day of the incident, a student poured milk on him, calling him ‘cracker’ and ‘mayonnaise’ and all that,” Walker said, adding they began on the victim again on the bus ride home. “When he told the others to ‘shut up and leave me alone,’ and that is when the fight started.”
Walker said the incident was an attack on the victim’s First Amendment rights and that supporting Trump was indeed the motivation for the attack.
Mitchell said that students are not permitted to wear political propaganda to school in an effort to keep situations from arising. Students that have shirts or hats that are considered political must keep them in their book bag.
He said the district is treating the attack as “an isolated incident” and that no additional incidents have been reported.
“I am very disappointed that the school district has been portrayed in a way as to bring negative attention to our staff and students when the District took immediate action to investigate and hold those individuals involved accountable,” Mitchell said.
Video evidence has since surfaced that shows the victim as the aggressor in a previous incident on the bus. The girl he was hitting, was one of the students who was charged with battery in this recent incident on the bus.