The driver of Prince George's County School Bus 263 was fed up with her rowdy passengers. She had stopped once already to break up a fight en route to DuVal High School. Then she had to pull off Annapolis Road in New Carrollton to stop another ruckus.
Out of options, carrying about 40 students who had 15 minutes to get to class, she called for county police help.
Two officers soon arrived, aiming to transport two antagonists, a boy and a girl, to the Lanham school. Then things really got out of hand. After police tried to arrest the girl, a melee erupted that eventually involved six officers and at least as many students, according to accounts yesterday from police and school officials.
Students came "piling off the bus, probably 25," to watch or participate, said Capt. Andrew Ellis.
Officers used pepper spray and a Taser stun gun to end the Tuesday morning brawl and arrested six juveniles on charges of assault, Ellis said. He said the use of the Taser was limited to "a quick touch" to jolt and subdue one student who apparently was threatening to attack with a stick.
Yesterday, students, parents, educators and police were trying to sort it all out. Some students alleged that police had used excessive force. DuVal Principal Thomas Anderson confirmed to The Washington Post that he had heard similar, but unverified, complaints from student witnesses.
One student, who was hyperventilating, was taken to a hospital as a precaution and released, school system spokesman John White said. "There were no serious injuries," Anderson said. "There's some emotional distress."
Ellis said an initial police review, including a look at video footage from a patrol car at the scene, found no evidence that officers acted improperly. He said police would review the matter again to be sure.
The incident spotlighted the periodic disciplinary troubles school bus drivers encounter, particularly in a county fleet that carries more than 90,000 students. One school administrator, who asked not to be named because of the incident's sensitivity, said police are sometimes called to transport students who raise disturbances on a bus. In that light, the administrator said, what occurred Tuesday on the bus "was not atypical. I mean, this stuff happens. They were arguing over who sits in what seat -- that kind of garbage."
Last night, school administrators held a closed-door meeting with parents in the DuVal cafeteria. Bus 263 was pulled from service yesterday while officials reviewed safety policies with students and parents. Officials said the driver acted appropriately and was still on the job.
Antwan Johnson, 16, and his mother, Rosa Peterson, came to the meeting irate. Speaking with reporters before the meeting, Antwan said he was roughed up with a baton, shocked with a Taser, choked by police without cause and then arrested. "They blew everything out of proportion," he said. "It was just too much. We didn't deserve that."
Michael Briscoe, 17, also came with his mother. He wore a neck brace and said police had abused him. He also had been arrested.
"I teach him to respect the law, and this is what the law gives him in return," said his mother, Jeri Briscoe.
For the most part, school officials backed up the police. But one school board member said the incident raised questions.
"I'm extremely concerned that we would have an event that would escalate to this level," said board member Judy Mickens-Murray (Upper Marlboro). She said she was awaiting more facts but asked: "Did it require Tasers? Did it require pepper spray? . . . With our children? With our youth?"
Anderson said he would consider disciplinary measures, including barring some students from the bus. White said officials expected to suspend some students from school.
White said the driver, who had spent two years in the school bus fleet without previous incident, did not want to be interviewed. Ellis said she is 54 years old.
Her bus typically picks up students in the Kentland area near Landover Road about 8 a.m. On Tuesday, Ellis said, the driver stopped once to end a fight, drove on and stopped again at Route 450 and 85th Avenue after a boy and girl started fighting. The level of disruption on board may have been even greater than police described. "Several fights and altercations occurred" during the bus ride, DuVal Assistant Principal Anthony Scott wrote in a letter to parents.
The driver called for police help about 8:15 a.m., or 15 minutes before school started. Some students fled the bus by an emergency exit.
Two officers then arrived in separate cars. The boy and girl involved in the fight came out of the bus and were being led to the patrol cars to get a ride to school. Ellis said the girl became "agitated" for unknown reasons and struck one of the officers, who decided to arrest the girl.
Passengers watching went into an uproar. Some tried to intervene with the police, and a scuffle broke out, widening into what Cpl. Clinton Copeland, a police spokesman, termed a "melee."
Four officers arrived to help the two on the scene. Within several minutes, six students were in handcuffs -- three 17-year-old boys, one 16-year-old boy and two girls, ages 15 and 16 -- and were taken to a police station in Hyattsville, Ellis said. He said they were charged with assault and released to their parents. Their identities were not made public because they are minors. Ellis declined to name the police officers involved, citing a policy of confidentiality for victims and witnesses.