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Employee accused of hitting 2 students on school bus had prior child abuse conviction

Tyler Zanella was arrested on suspicion of multiple counts of child abuse and other charges after video surfaced from a bus showing assaults on two students.

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — A paraprofessional accused of physically assaulting two students was hired by the Poudre School District despite a conviction on a misdemeanor child abuse charge, 9Wants to Know has learned.

Tyler Zanella, 36, was arrested in Fort Collins on suspicion of multiple counts of child abuse and other charges after video surfaced from a bus showing assaults on two students. One of them has been diagnosed as autistic and is nonverbal, according to court documents.

Documents obtained by 9Wants to Know on Tuesday show that Adams County sheriff’s deputies arrested Zanella on Jan. 3, 2012.

In that case, according to the documents, Zanella was entrusted to watch a small child whose mother called later in the day to check in and concluded that he was “drunk.”

The mother went home and found the child in a swing in the home’s living room, with a soiled diaper that the youngster had been wearing for an extended period of time.

At the time, the documents said, Zanella was in the shower. A short time later, he “walked down stairs and staggered to the couch where he almost fell to the ground.”

According to the documents, Zanella was “visibly intoxicated.”

Asked if he’d consumed alcohol, Zanella replied, “Yes, I was drinking, only for about 20 minutes.”

Prosecutors charged Zanella with child abuse – knowingly or recklessly causing injury.

In court, Zanella reached a deal with prosecutors, pleading to a reduced charge of child abuse – negligence, no injury.

A judge fined him $876.50 and put him on two years’ probation.

Before the Poudre School District hired him in August, it conducted a background check which unearthed the conviction, spokeswoman Emily Shockley said. Shockley also said in an e-mail that district officials obtained a copy of the same report from the Adams County Sheriff's Office that 9Wants to Know did -- and that during the interview process Zanella was asked about the case. She declined to shed light on how he replied to the questions.

By performing the background check, the district met state law, 9NEWS legal analyst Scott Robinson said.

“For any position that involves children, of any age, the law requires a background check – an educational employment background check,” Robinson said.

Under state law, the district had the power to hire Zanella even with a child abuse conviction on his background, Robinson said.

“If they conducted the search and concluded that what happened back then shouldn’t disqualify this individual from employment, well, we can certainly second-guess that now, can’t we?” Robinson said. “But it’s not a violation of Colorado law.”

Fort Collins police arrested Zanella Wednesday after video surfaced of the assaults on the bus.

That video was discovered after a report to the district alleging that Zanella made an “inappropriate comment” to a student.

A review of video from the bus showed Zanella allegedly hitting a student on the bus the day before. Other video showed him allegedly hitting another student in the face with a backpack at least four times.

The district fired Zanella the next day. He is due back in court June 6.

> Contact 9Wants to Know investigator Kevin Vaughan with tips about this or any story: kevin.vaughan@9news.com or 303-871-1862.

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