Former teacher charged with felony child abuse
Video shows Bessette dragging student by his arms
By Robert Cloud
The special education teacher terminated Feb. 8 by the Manawa School Board now faces criminal charges.
David D. Bessette, 44, Shawano, is charged with felony child abuse and causing mental harm to a child.
He faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted of causing mental harm.
Security video at Little Wolf Junior/Senior High School shows Bessette dragging a 13-year-old autistic boy down the hallway. The boy can be seen sliding on his feet while Besette pulls him by his arms.
The video also shows Bessette splashing water on the student. This irritated the boy, who has obsessive-compulsive disorder, causing him to run away, screaming and pulling his clothes off.
The incident occurred on Jan. 28.
On Sunday, Feb. 7, the boy’s mother reported the incident to Manawa police. She said Dr. Melanie Oppor, the district administrator, had told her to contact the police.
After speaking to the boy’s mother, Manawa Police Officer Tom Grant called Oppor.
According to the criminal complaint, Oppor said other teachers and aides had come forward regarding the incident, the school lawyer was involved and Bessette had been placed on unpaid administrative leave. A special board meeting was scheduled was scheduled for Feb. 8.
On Feb. 8, Chief Jim Gorman and Cpl. Michelle Kamba interviewed Danni Brauer, the special education director.
Brauer told police that she had been out of town on Jan. 28. On Feb. 3, Brauer was back at school and visiting all the special education classes to touch base. She said Bessette’s class aide, Tammy Kempf, told her about the boy taking off his clothes. She said it was not his fault because Bessette had sprinkled water on his clothes and the student is sensitive to wet clothes. She said everyone is aware of this issue.
That same day, Brauer spoke with Dan Wolfgram, the high school principal. She told him the incident should be investigated.
Wolfgram and Bauer then questioned Bessette about what had happened.
The complaint says Bessette told them that the boy was supposed to go into the gym, but went into the weight room instead, where he swung on a bar. Bessette said he wrote “time to go” on a white board, but the boy ran away and laid down on a rug in the hallway.
Bessette told Brauer and Wolfgram that he untied the student’s shoe and the student sat up and tied his shoe. He said he offered his hand to the student, who grabbed it and allowed Bessette to pull him up.
Following the interview, Brauer and Wolfgram watched a video of the incident. After seeing Bessette pull the student across the floor, touch the student’s head and face, apparently sprinkle water on him and yank the student back when he attempted to run away, Brauer and Wolfgram decided to question Bessette a second time after all three of them watched the video.
“When Mr. Bessette was questioned about what he was doing by the water fountain he said he was getting his hand wet and said he may have sprinkled water on the student,” according to the complaint. “Mr. Wolfgram said to him, ‘As the hand goes down it looks like you may have gotten water on him… Mr. Wolfgram then asked him if he knew that the wet would make him disrobe and Mr. Bessette said he knew the water would get him moving.”
Brauer asked Bessette why he had not used his radio to request assistance. Bessette reported said he did not have it on him. Brauer responded that the video shows that he did have his radio.
Gorman and Kamba also interviewed Kempf. She said the boy did not like anything wet or dirty on him. She also said that Bessette did not include any information about the water on his behavior report.
During her interview, Kempf recalled a day during the week of Feb. 1 when she returned to the classroom from lunch and found Bessette and the boy still there. She asked Bessette why the boy was still there and Bessette allegedly replied that the boy was not going to lunch because he was not working.
Kempf then went down to the lunchroom, spoke to Darren Carson, another special education teacher, who arranged for the boy to have his lunch in the classroom.
She said Bessette did not want the boy to eat his lunch until after he finished his reading problems. Kempf said she told the boy, “Let’s get ready for lunch,” he then sat down beside her, did his reading work and she had no further problems with him.
She described the boy as nonverbal and able to speak only a few words.
Dana Dean, a paraprofessional aide at the school, told Gorman and Kamba that the boy loves to learn and she believes they are helping him. She said he is talking more and they are seeing progress.