BOULDER - A Firestone woman who pleaded guilty to assaulting a man with autism was sentenced to 20 months in jail, Friday morning.
Twentieth Judicial District Judge Ingrid Bakke ordered Monica Burke, 52, to serve five years probation and 360 hours of community service for incidents that took place on a St. Vrain Valley School District bus in August 2016.
Burke was charged with kicking and hitting Longmont student Shiva Rai, who was 20 years old at the time. Rai is diagnosed with autism and is non-verbal.
The moments were captured on camera which also showed Burke spraying Rai in the face with aerosol disinfectant and telling him he's disgusting.
"That case was particularly concerning, of course, because the defendant was in a position of trust with regard to the victim," Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett said. "She had special obligations to take care of him and so the conduct in the video was very concerning to us."
Forty-four charges originally brought against Burke were dropped when she pleaded guilty to second-degree assault against an at-risk person as well as third-degree assault.
Friday morning, she addressed the court saying the woman in the video does not represent who she truly is. Burke's family and a friend gave similar testimonies saying what Burke did was inexcusable but she's punishing herself enough. They pleaded with the judge to give her the minimum sentence possible which was 12 months. The maximum was 24 months.
"In light of today's sentencing, I just want everyone to know how deeply remorseful Monica is for her actions," Burke's attorney, Tanner Spracklen, said after the sentencing. "I think that was clear in her speech. I think that was clear from a lot of people who know her well and how deeply remorseful she truly is."
Burke's attorney argued that her depression and anger from a troubled childhood led to what happened on that school bus but assured the court it would never happen again because she would never work with people who are at-risk again.
"I am proud of Monica for owning up to her mistake and facing everything that comes with it without any hesitation," Spracklen said. "Her family is also proud of her."
St. Vrain Valley School District immediately placed Burke on administrative leave when the incidents were first reported. She no longer works for the school district.
"St. Vrain Valley School District in no way condones the unacceptable actions of Ms. Burke and offers our sincere apologies," the district said in a statement. The statement continues on saying Burke's actions "are not indicative of the incredible staff that make the District an exceptional educational institution."
The school district has agreed to pay the Rai family a $3.85 million settlement "to compensate [Shiva] for his losses and to assist him with on-going lifetime expenses." The district's insurance carrier will pay $2 million of that amount.
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