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Escambia County school bus aide fired after mistreating autistic child

Escambia County school bus aide fired after mistreating autistic child

A Pensacola woman has been charged with battery after Escambia County deputies say she mistreated a special needs student.

Elfreda Lewis-Harris, a bus aide at Escambia Westgate was arrested and booked into the Escambia County Jail on Thursday, she posted bail just 19 minutes later.

Lewis-Harris is accused of hitting a special needs student, Stephen Huffman, with his own hands on January 26. Stephen's parents, Bambi and Dustin Huffman, are furious to learn this woman they're supposed to trust was arrested for mistreating their son.

"I think she needs help," said Bambi. "I feel if she will do it once, she'll do it again."

With severe autism, Stephen isn't able to tell his parents what happened, making the incident even more infuriating.

"Children should be protected period," said Dustin. "But handicapped children, there should be enhanced penalties for that."

A surveillance camera on the bus caught the whole incident. Special victims unit investigator Jason Comans said the video is hard to watch.

"You just see the bus aide stand up, and grab a student by the hands and make him hit himself," said Comans.

Due to federal law, we couldn't get the video to show you, but Bambi has seen it.

"She got in the seat with him, standing over him, using his own hands and was beating him in the head and was like, 'Stephen, every time you hit, you're going to get hit, every time you hit, you're going to get hit', and that was just like, I don't know, it broke my heart," said Bambi.

Anytime the Escambia County Sheriff's Office gets a case like this, Comans said it becomes a top priority.

"It's a good thing that stopped before it got way worse," said Comans. "The bus driver did the right thing, the bus driver did report it quickly and everybody jumped on this very fast and just to make sure that this can't happen again."

But for Stephen, this experience is all too familiar.

"In 2015, we were putting Stephen on the bus and I looked back and a bus aide was going to punch him in the head," said Dustin.

That aide was fired after an investigation. In this case, the Huffman's take solace in knowing the incident was reported and handled quickly, but they worry about the lasting impacts on their son.

"I think he's going to have triggers and when those triggers happen, he is going to go into his meltdown and he's going to lash out and he's going to withdraw," said Bambi.

The sheriff's office has finished their investigation, but the school district has not and they won't talk to us about it until they do.

Lewis-Harris is no longer working for the district.

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