Judge asked to allow child's testimony in trial of ex-Ocean Springs bus driver


JACKSON COUNTY -- Prosecutors are asking a judge to allow a girl to testify about how former Ocean Springs school bus driver Sergio Sandoval gave her candy, rubbed her back and gave her a pet name. The testimony, prosecutors say, is intended to show the type of suspected "sexual-abuse grooming" behavior he used on a different girl he is accused of molesting.

He has not been arrested on any charges involving the child who prosecutors are requesting be a witness, records show, but the lead prosecutor said her testimony would illustrate Sandoval's alleged sexual desire of young girls.

Sandoval, 64, is set to go to trial Aug. 1 in Jackson County on four counts of touching a child for lustful purposes and one count of sexual battery. He allegedly told the then-8-year-old girl who rode his bus not to tell anyone because it was "their secret."

According to a police report, Sandoval was driving his school bus while he allegedly rubbed the girl's genitals at times between Sept. 15 and Oct. 7, 2014. Police, prosecutors and the defense have reviewed many hours of surveillance footage from Sandoval's bus during the times of the alleged crimes.

His attorney, Jim Davis, said his client "strongly professes his innocence."

At least five other child witnesses are noted in other motions prosecutors filed.

In addition, records show, the Ocean Springs School Board contacted prosecutors in July to inform them of another of Sandoval's potential victims. That case was turned over to law enforcement investigators and led to other evidence, though the investigation did not find evidence of sexual abuse, records say.

Ocean Springs police first arrested Sandoval on Oct. 9, 2014, a day after a parent of one of the girls reported the alleged crimes. The School District had fired him a day earlier after Superintendent Bonita Coleman-Potter reviewed camera footage from his bus and saw a "blatant infraction of school board policy."

Davis noted Sandoval has no criminal history and had never had any complaints of sexual abuse, neglect or any other criminal activity filed against him as a bus driver. The complaints, Davis said, involved such things as failing to wait long enough for a student to get into a seat.

Davis has asked a judge not to allow at trial anything Sandoval may have said to police because he was never read his Miranda rights. In addition, records indicated he asked for an attorney after his arrest.

Sandoval is out of jail on bond pending trial.