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Ga. Officers Suspended After Tirade Against Students

"Look at me like a man. You want to grow up and be a man? Look at me like a (expletive) man."

Dalton Police Department Officer John Gurrieri didn't mince words when he spoke to a bus filled with 30 to 50 Dalton Middle School students on Monday, Nov. 11. And the curse words got Gurrieri and fellow officer Steve Collins disciplined by the department.

Gurrieri, who started with the police department on Oct. 1, 2012, and Collins, a Dalton Police officer for seven years, were both suspended for two days without pay and required to complete 40 hours of service at local youth programs for cursing at the students, according to a press release from the police department. They will also receive a written report in their personnel file and will undergo more verbal communication training, the release stated.

Police Chief Jason Parker called the officers' actions "out of line with department and community standards." Parker said that Gurrieri used a curse word four times and Collins cursed once.

Parker said he was "very disappointed to hear about this incident," adding that "this type of behavior is not acceptable (from Collins and Gurrieri)."

The police department received a complaint about the incident that evening from a parent of a student on the bus and investigated. The department's internal investigation found the officers did use inappropriate language that is "inconsistent with the department's mission."

"We do not normally publish personnel actions," Parker said in the release. "But after discussing it with the officers, and considering the circumstances, it seemed appropriate to inform the community about what happened and what actions we have taken."

Dalton Public Schools officials said because they outsource their bus service with First Student they don't know the name of the driver. No one from First Student's local office immediately returned several phone messages left Monday evening.

A number for Collins or Gurrieri could not be found late Monday.

Collins and Gurrieri were called to the bus by 911. A school bus dispatcher called 911 after the bus driver said she felt students were "getting out of control."

School administrators said they reviewed a video from a camera on the school bus and didn't see any unruly behavior from students that put the bus in danger or required police intervention. The video also contains audio.

"No disciplinary action was taken against any of the students aboard the bus," said Craig Harper, chief administrative officer with the school system.

Video of the bus obtained by The Daily Citizen on Monday showed the bus driver pulling over at the corner of Calhoun Street and South Glenwood Avenue at 3:08 p.m. the day of the incident after the driver spent about 15 minutes telling students to "stop hollering and screaming."

"They are just out of control," the bus driver told a First Student dispatcher. "Just go ahead and send the Dalton Police out here."

Several minutes later, Gurrieri boarded the front of the bus and addressed the students.

"Really? Really? You have a bus driver calling the cops on a bunch of middle school kids," Gurrieri said. "Really? Come on. Who is being the biggest punk? You going to take the blame? Here's the problem. Alright? She (the bus driver) is driving 50 of you guys home?"

Gurrieri then focused on one student.

"Wipe the stupid smile off your face," he told the grinning student in the third row back. "OK? Why don't you get up and go outside?"

Collins took the student off the bus. Collins is then heard off screen calling the student a "jackass." After the student left, Gurrieri addressed the entire bus again.

"You want to act like a bunch of hellions?" Gurrieri said to the middle school students. "She (the bus driver) can't (expletive) focus on what she's doing. What if she flipped the bus over? Or hits somebody? You think it is (expletive) funny when you're hurt or when someone else is hurt? What's funny then?"

Gurrieri continued by telling students they were making the bus "unsafe."

"So now we have to come on the bus and I have to discipline you like you're my children," he said. "You ain't my children and I don't want to discipline you like you're my children. OK? You guys are at the age where you're about to go to high school. You're about to put adult clothes on. Alright? Make the choice."

He then noticed another student further back in the bus.

"Do you want to go outside too, man?" he said. "I'll call your parents to come pick you up. I'll give you a citation. I'll do whatever I want, man. Look, just act like you freakin' have some sense, man. All of you. It's not that big of a deal."

Law enforcement and school officials said no students were charged, or appeared in the video doing anything illegal. Gurrieri told them they could go to court.

"All your parents are going to have to leave work or leave home or whatever they have to do to come down here to pick each of you up," he told students. "Then you all get citations. OK? Then all of you have to go in front of the judge. The juvenile judge. And she's got no tolerance for this (expletive).

"She expects more out of 12- 13- 14-year-olds. Alright? Does anyone want to raise their hand and volunteer for that? No? So how about we just act like we have, you know, have a brain in our head and go home. You want to act like crazy (expletive), do it at home."

Before leaving, Gurrieri asked if any student wanted to "justify" their actions. When no one spoke, he left. Roughly a minute later Gurrieri was heard off screen talking to the student who was previously taken off the bus for smiling.

"When you have that stupid look on your face, all I want to do is put you in the back of the car and take you to jail," Gurrieri told the student. "One day, I'm going to get to do that."

Moments later, the student -- still smiling -- returned to his seat.

After the police left and the bus driver resumed driving, the students began talking and laughing again.

"One day you're going to learn that I mean business and I mean business," the bus driver told students, repeatedly shouting "Shut up!"

"I said shut up or I'll pull over and call them on you again," she said. "I don't want a word out of any of you. I mean it. We will be on silent ride until you learn respect."

Copyright 2013 - The Daily Citizen, Dalton, Ga.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service