A family is seeking justice after a South Florida man was crushed by a dumpster while he was working nearly three years ago.
The family of Antonio Pineda Jr. filed a lawsuit in 2017 for the maintenance supervisor’s October 2016 death. Pineda was cleaning up trash near a dumpster at an apartment complex in Miami Gardens when a waste management truck dropped the dumpster, crushing Pineda.
He was rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital and died six days later.
“Every time I go to sleep that’s all I think about,” Antony Pineda, the victim’s son, said in a video deposition. “You play it over and over again in your head. How it could’ve happened. I don’t know.”
The family’s attorney, Aaron Davis, claims the driver of the truck, Niove Lara, was reckless and grossly negligent.
“The procedure was that my client would go into the dumpster area to clean garbage that had spilled out of the dumpster as it was lifted,” Davis explained. “The only way the garbage could be moved out of the way is after the dumpster had been raised up and before it went down again. So the driver of the waste management truck knew of that procedure, didn’t follow his own protocol, resulting in my client’s death.”
NBC 6 reached out to Lara’s attorney but received a statement by Waste Management Inc. instead.
“Safety is Waste Management Inc. of Florida’s highest priority,” the statement read. “This was a tragic accident. Mr. Pineda entered a confined area where a dumpster was being serviced, and in an area where he could not be seen.”
Davis alleges that Lara knew Pineda was there, cleaning.
“This is a procedure that waste management ratified, and agreed to, and condoned,” he said.
“I couldn’t say goodbye,” Antony Pineda said. “That’s the worst part.”
AARON DAVIS, ESQ QUOTED IN THE SUN-SENTINEL REGARDING UNDERREPORTED INCIDENTS OF BULLYING WITHIN THE BROWARD COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT
MIAMI, FL- June 12, 2018-On paper, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High looked like one of the safest high schools in Florida.
The Broward school district reported to the state that no one was bullied or harassed, no one trespassed on campus, no one was violently attacked, no one broke into campus after hours and nothing expensive was stolen during the 2016-17 school year.
It wasn’t true.
The district reports only a portion of its actual crimes to the state, making it impossible to spot a school’s trouble spots and inform parents about safety, the South Florida Sun Sentinel has found.
Had school administrators reported every crime that actually happened at Stoneman Douglas, it might have raised an alarm that safety was a concern, said April Schentrup, whose daughter Carmen was killed in the Feb. 14 massacre at the school.
“It might help them to say, ‘I need another [police officer] on campus. Look we have all these incidents,’” said Schentrup, who is principal of Pembroke Pines Elementary.
Reports from the Broward Sheriff’s Office show a number of cases of trespassing, battery, robbery and theft at Stoneman Douglas that are required by the state to be reported but weren’t:– At least 10 instances of trespassing in the last three years were listed on reports and call logs, most involving former or suspended students entering campus during the school day, when access is supposed to be restricted to the front office.
— Former School Resource Officer Scot Peterson wrote in his logs that he assisted students who were bullied or harassed at least 16 times between 2014 and 2017.
— At least six incidents of break-ins, robberies and thefts were reported to the Broward Sheriff’s Office in the 2016-17 school year.
— Police reports show at least two cases of battery, when students hit classmates, during the 2016-17 school year.
All of those cases were reported to the Broward Sheriff’s Office or its school resource officer, Peterson, but none were reported to the state.
The state data does show that 193 weapons were found districtwide that school year, but the number had dropped by more than half from the year before and represented at least a 10-year-low.
Those numbers are misleading, because the district acknowledged it stopped reporting things like ammunition, small knives, throwing blades, nunchucks, BB guns and combustible materials.
The school district says it’s following the state’s definition of weapons, which includes “any dirk, knife, metallic knuckles, slungshot, billie, tear gas gun, chemical weapon or device, or other deadly weapon except a firearm or a common pocketknife, plastic knife, or blunt-bladed table knife.”
The state Department of Education says it requires that data be collected to help schools, districts and the state “assess the extent and nature of problems in school safety.” Parents and businesses also use the data to decide where to locate. But experts say the data provides no value if it’s inaccurate.
“I don’t think you can fix problems in a school without knowing the real statistics,” said Rebecca Dahl, a retired Broward County principal. “By not reporting correctly, you can’t go back and say, ‘Gosh, we had this many incidents, this many kids bullied.’ You can’t look at what’s really going on at the school.”
A new report by a school safety task force highlights concerns about the prevalence of inaccurate information. The Sun Sentinel had outlined similar problems in May, reporting that the schools have grown so tolerant of misbehavior that students like the Stoneman Douglas gunman slid by for years without strict punishment.
“It was reported that some individual participants [in Broward schools] may have a real or perceived incentive to under-report or not impose consequences” in discipline matters,” said the task force report, commissioned by the Broward County League of Cities.
Administrators aren’t directly told to fudge reports, Dahl said, but “if you show you’ve got all these incidents, parents won’t put their children in the school because they think it’s not safe. That’s really what happens.”
Reported crimes have dwindled across Florida. Districts last year reported about half as many incidents as they did 10 years ago. The number of reported batteries have dropped from 8,436 to 2,263, trespassing cases from 866 to 475, and bullying cases from 5,665 to 3,153.
Schools get no direct financial benefit from the state or federal government from under-reporting crime and discipline, but administrators nationwide often fear for their jobs, said Max Eden, who studies school discipline practices for the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank.
“It starts with the PR interests at the top,” Eden said. “By the time it gets down to mid-level bureaucrats, it’s made pretty clear to them that they serve at the pleasure of those above them and that those above them will be displeased if their numbers get too high and very pleased if they decrease.”
The state doesn’t verify that the data being turned in is accurate unless it sees unusual patterns from one year to next, said Jacob Oliva, executive vice chancellor for the education department.
“The superintendents and the school boards know what’s expected of them, and they sign off saying this data is accurate to the best of their knowledge and ability, and we have to accept that,” Oliva said.
Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie has acknowledged complaints that discipline is under-reported. He sent a memo to principals last month saying, “We have to be vigilant in reporting every incident.”
He said district auditors also will review how well schools are enforcing and reporting their discipline numbers.
Lisa Maxwell, executive director of the Broward Principals and Assistants’ Association, said she’s unaware of any pressure administrators receive to under-report. She said the problem is that the state, school district and police may have different definitions of what counts as a battery or bullying or trespassing.
“The state statute is really kind of unclear and open to interpretation, so it leads to subjective decisions,” Maxwell said.
Broward school district spokeswoman Cathleen Brennan said the data sent to the state is meant only to capture “the most serious of incidents, while other incidents are recorded and addressed locally.”
For example, she said incidents such as thefts of items valued at $300 or less would not be reported to the state. But larger thefts were supposed to be reported.
That hasn’t always happened at Stoneman Douglas.
In September 2016, surveillance video showed two boys stealing another boy’s black Louis Vuitton backpack, his Apple 6S iphone, his red Salvatore Ferratore belt and his Geoffrey Beene watch. Video surveillance also spotted two men breaking into the campus overnight in October 2016, causing $3,900 worth of damage to vending machines and stealing an undisclosed amount of money, according to a Sheriff’s Office report.
Neither of those incidents was reported to the state. In fact, the school district reported no robberies, burglaries or major thefts that year.
Brennan said that in cases of trespassing, citations are issued by law enforcement, not school administrators. She said the reporting requirements may not match the legal definition of trespassing. She declined to speak specifically about any examples identified by the Sun Sentinel.
State Department of Education guidelines say the district is expected to report trespassing whenever someone enters and remains on campus “without authorization or invitation and with no lawful purpose for entry.”
Broward reported only 26 trespassing incidents for the entire district in the 2016-17 school year. Palm Beach County reported 49 incidents, Miami-Dade County 48.
At Stoneman Douglas, administrators or security personnel alerted the Sheriff’s Office about trespassers multiple times.
In September 2015, campus monitor Aaron Feis caught a trespasser inside the 1200 building on campus, the same building where Feis died during the Feb. 14 shooting. In January 2016, campus monitor Chris Hixon, who also died in the shooting, caught a former student entering a teacher’s classroom. It was the individual’s third time trespassing on campus.
Nonetheless, the school reported no trespassing cases to the state either year.
Bullying gets no more attention than trespassing, records show.
A third of the 1,500 Broward middle school students who took a 2015 survey said they had been bullied. But the Broward school district reported only 101 cases in 2016-17, with 80 percent of schools reporting no bullying. That same year, Palm Beach County reported 157 bullying incidents, while Miami-Dade reported 430.
Miami attorney Aaron P. Davis represented a female student at New Renaissance Middle in Miramar who successfully sued the school district in 2016 after she was punched and kicked at the school. Yet New Renaissance reported zero cases of bullying in the 2015-16 school year.
“How can that be true?” Davis asked. “My client’s black eye is evidence that’s not true.”
Davis Goldman, PLLC, with offices in Miami and Hollywood, Florida, serves clients in the areas of personal injury, business transactions, business litigation, outside general counsel services, intellectual property, construction litigation, and product liability.
Another student at New Renaissance Middle was beat to the ground this year. Several kids took turns kicking her until school staff stopped them, according to her family’s attorney.
In each case, parents say the schools did not do enough to keep their children safe.
Several Broward school board members say they plan to examine ways to better quell violence and bullying at school.
“If it’s happening to one child then we’re not doing enough,” board member Nora Rupert said after a mother pleaded in October with the school board to protect her daughter from foes.
Every school has an employee responsible for providing educational materials about bullying prevention and an employee who investigates all bullying complaints. Staff, students and parents at every school get anti-bullying training every year. Available trainings include tackling dating violence prevention, conflict mediation and diversity sensitivity.
And a group called The Prevention Team collects data and gives ongoing guidance to students and advisers in an attempt to prevent violence.
After requests from the Sun Sentinel, Broward school district staff were unable to say three weeks later how many reports of bullying Broward receives or how many cases turn violent.
But a 2015 survey of middle school students showed that about one-third of about 1,500 students surveyed had been bullied at Broward County Public Schools, according to estimates from a Youth Risk Behavior Survey led by the Centers for Disease Control.
Almost half of the students had gotten into fights and just about 4 percent were injured, according to the report.
The survey of high schools estimated that about 16 percent were bullied and about 8 percent had physically fought at school within the year. About the same percentage of high school students avoided going to school at least once within 30 months of taking the survey because they felt unsafe.
Lowell Levine, founder of the Stop Bullying Now Foundation, which works with parents, schools and students across the country, said he’s gotten at least three dozen calls this year from Broward parents searching for help.
They come to him after trying to get school officials to answer their concerns, he said.
One board member said she’ll start parent and student forums on violence at school, and the board chair said she will ask staff to determine if schools have enough guidance counselors to adequately handle bullying.
The district pays $6.8 million to staff schools with about 150 police officers and sheriff’s deputies.
But Tajzhana Hammond said no one was there when she emerged from a circle of fists and stomping feet, found her shoe, called her mom and walked herself to the office last week when her classmates jumped her.
No adults can be seen near Hammond in a video of the fight, shot by another student on a cellphone.
Her mother, Helen George, stormed to the office when she received the call.
“I busted through the door like it was nothing. … I was Incredible Hulk. I wanted to fight. Ten girls jumped my daughter. No security guards there,” George said.
Hammond said students started threatening her shortly after she and her mom moved from Miramar and she switched schools. One slammed her with a backpack in the lunch room after several verbal threats. She told her mom, who went to the school office the next day, she said.
“I said there better not be a next time,” George said.
But just weeks later, the girls attacked Hammond.
The district will not answer specific questions related to the incident. Instead, a district spokeswoman emailed a statement saying that the altercation was determined to be the result of an ongoing neighborhood dispute and that no physical injuries were reported.
“School staff and law enforcement responded quickly and followed all proper protocols. … The school notified parents of all of the students involved in this incident. Based on the school’s investigation and review of the incident, some of the students involved will receive the appropriate disciplinary actions,” the statement read.
Plantation Police said several people will be arrested, but the department has not completed any reports.
Nancy Zimmer, president of Plantation High’s Parent Teacher Student Organization, said the principal did everything she could. She rang the lunch bell and told the students over the intercom that whoever was involved would be dealt with and that altercations like that would never happen again, Zimmer said.
“Not one parent I’ve heard thinks that the administration is at fault in any way,” Zimmer said.
Board member Rosalind Osgood, whose district includes Plantation High, said a student told her three fights broke out there the day of Hammond’s attack. Osgood wasn’t sure whether Hammond’s attack was one of those. The district, she said, has a student fighting problem.
Osgood said she will lead a push to quell it. She will start by increasing parent and student participation in shaping policy changes by hosting several forums to hear how they think the schools can best address bullying and violence, she said.
“It’s going to take a major culture change for all of us,” Osgood said.
But schools must strike a balance. Parents may say the school isn’t protecting their children because their kid’s attacker wasn’t sent to jail or removed from school, she said.
Leaders also must not issue punishments that provide little chance for the student to reform. Staff need to work to address anger issues with the student who is bullying, Osgood said.
And calls to increase security come with their own problems.
“I don’t want schools to be a place where we’ve gobs and gobs of officers walking around,” Osgood said. “I’m trying to keep kids out of jail, so I don’t want to create a jail environment.”
Broward currently runs a school, the Pine Ridge Education Center, that aims to reform aggressive or illegal behaviors instead of sending them to jail.
Nine months after several kids beat Jayla Cofer to the ground at New Renaissance Middle, her double vision lingers.
Jayla had feared her attacker for weeks, according to a lawsuit her mother, Santrail Cofer, filed against the school district. Her attorney said the student began threatening Jayla and her friends over relationship rumors. The dispute erupted into a physical battle in a classroom between that student and the friend a week before the beating, said Cofer’s attorney, Aaron Davis of Miami-based Davis Goldman law firm.
The student was suspended, according to the suit. But two boys went to the Cofer home the following night and banged on her door. Cofer went to school the next day and reported the incident to Miramar police, saying she was afraid for her daughter, according to the police report.
School staff sent Jayla home and told her they would change her schedule so she could avoid her bully, Davis said.
The next Monday, she returned to school, met with a guidance counselor, attended a class and walked down a flight of stairs to lunch when she saw several students waiting for a fight, Davis said.
And there stood the girl who had attacked her friend the week before.
Jayla landed in the emergency room with a deep wound on her face, her legs bruised, skin torn and vision trouble, Davis said.
The school resource officer and a school security specialist broke up the fight, but there were no arrests. The school handled the event through its Pine Ridge Education Center program, said Tania Rues, police spokeswoman.
The district will not answer specific questions, citing pending litigation. Nor would the district comment on whether staff typically alters a victim’s schedule to avoid bullies.
Schools commonly suggest that the victim change his or her schedule or habits to avoid the student harassing them, said Levine, of the Stop Bullying Now Foundation
“They may have lunch at the same time. They may be on the same bus, they may be in the same locker room. They may be walking to school in the same neighborhood. So what is that really accomplishing?” he said. “It’s just surface work so they can have an excuse to say, ‘Well, we tried.'”
Experts at the Melissa Institute, a violence prevention and treatment education and research organization, said schools can address bullying by paying equal attention to character development and emotional intelligence as they do to testing and evaluation.
Students who bully tend to have good leadership skills, since they’re so effective at influencing other kids’ self-esteem. To truly resolve bullying, schools can counsel these students to use their power to help others, said Heather Winters, director of the Melissa Institute.
Levine said schools can start by forcing students who bully to complete community service rather than suspend them.
Broward School Board Chair Abby Freedman said she will direct staff to determine whether each school has enough guidance counselors to effectively tackle bullying.
“You can write all the policies in the world, but you have to start communicating to find out what’s really wrong,” Freedman said.
Kim Johnson fears her daughter could land in another situation like these.
She recently pleaded with the school board to investigate bullying of Kaila after she said she filed several complaints with Nova High School and has received no relief.
At the beginning of this year, for example, some girls saw Kaila leaving the school parking lot, ran to their car and sped up to pass her. They hit her car in the process, Johnson said.
A traffic report documents the incident.
And three weeks ago, Kaila’s boyfriend overheard the girls saying they were going to do something to her before winter break, she said.
So Kaila goes to school early to avoid running into them. And she leaves school late.
“You always have your guard up,” Kaila said. “There’s always that feeling of being on edge.”
The district is investigating Kaila’s case.
“It makes you not want go to go to school to be honest,” Kaila said. “Just go to get the motions done instead of actually enjoying school.”
firstname.lastname@example.org, 954-356-4528 or Twitter @caitmcglade