Here's why Coast teacher, bus driver were charged only with misdemeanors in student assault

A Jackson County grand jury reviewed school bus surveillance videos depicting the mistreatment and assault of a disabled St. Martin special education student on a school bus before deciding on misdemeanor charges in the case, Jackson County District Attorney Tony Lawrence confirmed Friday.

“The facts of the case, including the video, were presented to the grand jury,” Lawrence said. “The grand jury was presented (its) options under the law and determined the act was a misdemeanor.”

State law does not allow prosecutors, including those at the Jackson County District Attorney's office, to sit in during grand jury deliberations.

“The members of the grand jury took an oath to follow the law, and I am confident that is exactly what they did,” Lawrence said. "The actions of the defendant depicted on the video are disturbing and cruel."

However, he said, "any complaints about the charge should not be with the citizens of the grand jury, but should be with the law as it exists in this state."

The prosecutor is referring to a story the Sun Herald broke this week that included video surveillance footage of Kerri Anne Nettles, then a St. Martin Middle School special education teacher, stuffing a towel in a disabled girl's mouth, to get her to stop talking and moving around in her seat on the school bus.

In addition, the footage, both from incidents on a bus in 2014 and 2015, showed bus driver Antioinette Jane Raymond, threatening to the take the girl to jail or kill her, and sitting on top of her to get the student, then 14, to stop moving.

“I hope that those who wish that the law was different will join with prosecutors to communicate that desire to the legislators so the law can be changed,” Lawrence said.

Mississippi is among a handful of states nationwide without a policy addressing the use of restraint and seclusion for students.

According to state law, child abuse is a felony if the child is intentionally burned, tortured, strangled, choked or smothered, poisoned, starved, or injured with a weapon even if there is no permanent injury.

In addition, a felony child abuse charge applies only if a child suffers serious injuries, such a broken bones and scarring.

Margaret Baker 228-896-0538, margar45