Former councilmember Jeanette Burrage found ‘Not Guilty’ of assaulting child

Former Des Moines City Councilmember Jeanette Burrage was found ‘Not Guilty’ Thursday of charges of assaulting a special needs student who was riding on a Highline School District bus she was driving in 2015.

The verdict was handed down by a six-person jury at SeaTac Municipal Court on Thursday morning, May 26.

As we previously reported, initial charges of assault came after King County Sheriff’s detectives investigated the March 2015 incident, then recommended fourth degree assault charges be filed against her.

Burrage also served as a state legislator and King County Superior Court judge. She resigned from the Des Moines City Council in April, 2015.

At the time, the Sheriff’s office said it jointly investigated the case with the school district after school district employees that viewed the bus surveillance video from the afternoon routes on March 10 reported it to SeaTac Police on March 18. Police and school security officers initially responded to a disturbance on the bus but deputies said at the time there was no indication that an assault occurred. Following the incident, the student was taken home by school district security, said a Sheriff’s department spokesman.

An internal review of the bus surveillance video by district officials showed Burrage slapping the child, who was standing on a seat at the time, said deputies. District officials immediately contacted SeaTac Police, who turned the matter over to the Sheriff’s office Special Assault Unit, given their special experience with juvenile interviews. That unit worked with SeaTac Police to conclude the case.

Here’s surveillance video of the incident which was released at the time; note that a “much higher resolution” version of this footage was presented in the courtroom:

“Jeanette was innocent, and justice was served,” said her lawyer, Joseph A. Breidenbach of Burien.

Breidenbach added that the jury reviewed a “much higher resolution” video of the incident in the courtroom than had been previously distributed.

Bridenbach also told The Waterland Blog that the jury had a “very short” deliberation of around 35 minutes total, and they announced their verdict around 9:15 a.m. Thursday morning.

“It was extremely stressful, and I’m really hoping that somebody investigates the Highline School District transportation department,” Burrage told The Waterland Blog. “There’s a severe shortage of drivers, which needs to be investigated.”

Burrage had been driving buses for Highline Transportation since 2012, but was placed on administrative leave by the school district.

Burrage told The Waterland Blog that she’ll likely next seek an arbitration about whether she should’ve been fired.

“I have great faith in our justice system,” Burrage told The Waterland Blog.

Relieved yet still very emotional, Burrage added:

“I was so emotionally distraught that I didn’t want to go to council meetings, where I’d hear from angry residents, hear nasty remarks, read emails, receive negative phone calls – all of which really hurt me.

That’s why I resigned – I thought I was tough but I guess I wasn’t.”


25 Responses to “Former councilmember Jeanette Burrage found ‘Not Guilty’ of assaulting child”
  1. Robert says:

    So hitting a 6 year old in the face with video as evidence is not assault?

    • Bernadette says:

      I am trying to understand why she is not guilty. And Why She Wants Highline School District investigated. She says she was stressed and didn’t even want to attend meetings. I wonder how the boy feels. How do the parents feel? I know I’m sick to my stomach over this. My son takes the bus everyday in Highline School District.

    • L.Fideler says:

      I am concerned that a bus driver was put into a situation where she had to do something other than drive the bus. I thought bus monitors were in the position to deal with unruly children. It is often a very tough job. It seems to me that drivers and their monitors should all receive special training for this job–ways to defuse a situation, also everyone involved should know who their special needs children are and ways to help them. when they are in their care. Of course if the child had been on the bus they were supposed to ride we would not be having this discussion. Since this was apparently not the case, it did set up this lady for failure. sad for all, no body ‘wins”.

  2. Des Moines Mama says:

    The video makes it look exceedingly clear that she slapped that child.

    • Bill Lewis says:

      I am very happy that the verdict for Jeanette Burrage was Not Guilty. Jeanette has served our community in many ways and to have this incident behind her is something that I am sure she is relieved of.

      I find it very cruel for the verdict to have been reached by a jury of her peers and then for the news makers to show the video over again. What’s that all about?

      I find it interesting that little is made of the intolerable position her employers put her in. It is as if they were setting her up for failure. She quit over this incident. Did anyone in charge of her have the decency to do the same? That seems to me to be the real story.

      How come the Highline School District cannot find enough drivers for our school children? Let’s ask some of the deeper questions and find solutions instead of going after someone who has been found NOT GUILTY.

      • Rhymes with Tanker says:

        So Bill, are you advocating for violence against disabled 6 year olds? Because anyone who has seen the video can clearly see her hit the kid.

        • Bill Lewis says:

          I think you missed my point.

          Jeanette reacted and regrets it.

          What put her in a position of failure?

          • Robert says:

            Her inability to control herself put her in a position of failure. Someone who “reacts” to a 6 year old kid that way should not be around kids. Someone who was a judge, should demonstrate better judgement.

            I am appalled at the amount of people thing that the circumstances somehow justify child abuse. Even if she regrets it, it does not mean that it was okay.

      • Bernadette says:

        How did they set her up to fail? I am wondering why it is you are blaming Highline School District? What you are proud of is a woman won a case about her slapping a child. Way to go. The only thing I can feel good about is she resigned.

  3. Pat Nardo says:

    We thought, all along, that our good friend, Jeanette, was not guilty of hitting a child without extreme provocation. If anyone, kid or not, swats me, I would definitely have reacted accordingly. Jeanette Burrage is a good friend and community volunteer who is always ready to give of her services and aid to those in need. Our school officials seem to have reacted on a “knee jerk” and they owe this lady an apology at least. I look forward to as much publicity at her innocence as the nasty commentary that made even me cringe. This is how all “rush to judgment” issues should end. Better yet; never started without thorough review.

    • Robert says:

      It is never okay to hit a child, especially a 6 year old autistic child who had been taken out of his routine. As an adult, if she was agitated to the point of resorting to violence, she should have removed herself from the situation. Pat, if you would act the same way as this lady, I hope you’re not spending time around children.

    • SoKing says:

      I always thought there was zero tolerance for violence in schools and wondered if the child was disciplined? I would hope so to some degree autistic or not. It was a horribly unfortunate situation for all involved. I hope they can all move on.

  4. Pat Nardo says:

    Recently asked to participate in the Waterland Festival’s Parade as Judge Chairman, I was quick to accept the offer and have already started our judging crew. SO fa I have four judges (prominent Des Moines Citizens) and we need one more, along with a photographer. Our camera man from last year will be out of town this parade day.
    If you are a camera and parade enthusiast, please contact me post haste?

  5. karen mcmichael says:

    The real tragedy in the situation as I recall from the time of the incident, was that the child in question had accidentally gotten on the wrong bus. With that said, Jeanette likely didn’t know the child or the reality of his significant diagnosis of Autism which clearly contributed to his severe distress in initially hitting Ms. Burrage.

    Extreme care needs to be taken with children who experience this very serious condition. The ability to mainstream kids with significant emotional disturbances into public schools is a real plus for both the children, their families and the community at large, but there needs to be careful monitoring of the interface between the kids and the community & schools in which these kids are involved to provide success for all involved.

    • Robert says:

      You’re correct that extreme care needs to be taken with kids with autism, and there may have been a mistake that placed the kid on the bus, but the tragedy is that an adult hit a kid.

      There is never a situation where it is okay for an adult to hit a kid. Period.

      • no excuse says:

        I could not agree with you more Robert.
        Her actions are shameful.
        According to the reports I read, the child did NOT get on the bus by accident. He was placed there. So nice try, to those who are trying to say that Ms. Burrage didn’t know better. Given the presence of the caregiver shown in the tape, it is clear that Ms. Burrage would have been aware of their presence. And that his special needs were severe enough to call for an escort.

        The verdict states she is not guilty of assault, but it does not say she did not hit the child. She will have to live with her bad choice for the rest of her life.

      • maybe excuse says:

        “There is never a situation where it is okay for an adult to hit a kid.”

        If you don’t hit this kid, a nuclear bomb will detonate in every school in the US. Never a situation?

  6. D.M. Resident says:

    Ms. Burrage had a normal school bus route with normal children. The child placed on her bus that day was not part of her daily students and was usually on a special bus with trained personnel to handle his long history of behavioral issues. Why the school district took this child that needed special supervision and placed him onto a normal school bus is a question that remains unanswered.

    The school district did not inform Jeanette of that history nor did they inform her of the diagnosed mental health issues of the child. The school district did not give her the information she needed nor did they give her the training needed for handling a child with those sorts of issues. Why not? Because they claim it is protected medical information. They also gave Jeanette a bus aide that was brand new and untrained. They set her up for failure. Probably not intentionally – but definitely negligently.

    The Highline School District, more than anyone, is responsible for what happened. Jeanette should sue them.

    • Robert says:

      Oh, so if your employer doesn’t tell you a kid behaves differently from others, then it’s okay to hit them? That is ridiculous. Like I said, there is no excuse for child abuse.

      You could make the argument that the school district didn’t inform the kid that there was a violent driver aboard.

  7. Tom Taaffe says:

    No one in their right mind thinks it’s OK to strike a disabled child. The situation here asks if it is assault in the eyes of them law.,At the beginning of the trial every prospective juror thought as many of the correspondents here do that Ms Burrage was guilty of assault.
    When all the evidence was in and the jurors instructed in the applicable law it took them jurors approximately 30 minutes to find her not guilty.
    The problem here is more complex. A child with a severe disability is placed on the wrong bus. The school staff on the bus had no idea and had no training as to how to deal with such a child. Getting in that child’s face was absolutely the wrong way to deal with the situation. The time between Ms Burrage getting slapped and her slapping back in a reflex reaction was two tenths of a second. Wrong , yes. Intentional, no and assault requires intent.

  8. Highline Grad says:

    Looks like a little normally school bus using boy was allowed to wander onto a Metro bus just the other day causing a huge panic when he didn’t arrive home.. Sounds like Highline needs to get on the ball here too!!! This area isn’t exactly the type you want to have little kids riding metro!!

  9. Highline Grad says:

    Who would want to drive a school bus these days?. There are signs all over Highline offering free training ( Which they did not do in the past ) and openings for drivers. No one wants to do it and very few stay long.

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