The staffer accused of inflicting a head injury on a 12-year-old boy at AMIkids turned himself in to police on Friday, just hours before the Pinellas Park school for at-risk boys was shutdown.
Dontae Antonio Thomas, 34, of Ruskin, turned himself in at the Hillsborough County jail at about noon. He faces a charge of aggravated child abuse after police said he body-slammed a student on Feb. 11, leaving the child with a brain bleed.
AMIkids was forced to close Friday at the direction of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, which is a funding partner to the nonprofit. Juvenile Justice’s inspector general will investigate the incident, said agency spokeswoman Amanda Slama.
Pinellas schools superintendent Mike Grego also terminated the district’s long-held contract with AMIkids, and his staff is working to relocate the nonprofit’s 40 students to other schools. Grego on Friday declined multiple requests for an interview about the latest developments at AMIkids.
The school itself already seemed abandoned by 3 p.m. Friday. A few students trickled out of the building, which looks like a dingy department store, tucked behind a chain link fence at 6500 102nd Ave N.
Thomas is the second AMIkids employee to face charges in this case. A supervisor was arrested soon after the child was hospitalized. Pinellas Park police detectives met with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office on Thursday, decided to charge Thomas, then had a judge sign an arrest warrant.
Records show Thomas has been accused of similar abuse of students in the past. In 2014, multiple girls enrolled at Lake Academy, a residential alternative school in Tampa, reported his aggressive behavior to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
A 17-year-old said he performed a “takedown” on her when she acted out, according to a sheriff’s report. She “fell face first into the floor and broke both of her front teeth as a result,” the report said.
Another girl at the school said he “flipped her onto the ground and attempted to suffocate her” by pressing the sweater she was wearing into her face, according to a report.
In other reports, a student told deputies he “pushed her head against a concrete area of her bed,” and another student said Thomas “grabbed her right breast and began to twist it” while dragging her to her bedroom.
Thomas was not arrested in any of these incidents. All of the complaints were determined to be unfounded, records show. Investigators wrote that Thomas had “no criminal intent” and did “not intentionally hurt” the students.
The recent incident at AMIkids involved a boy who skipped the lunch line. Thomas sent him to another room, where he then hoisted the boy to his waist and slammed him down to the ground, Pinellas Park police said, inflicting a head injury. The child proceeded to cry, vomit and lose consciousness.
A supervisor, Jarvis Delon West, accompanied the child on a school bus that took him home. But West did not tell the child’s mother what happened or summon any help for the boy, police said.
The boy’s mother later took her son to the hospital, police said, where he was diagnosed with a skull fracture, two subdural hematomas and a brain bleed.
West, 28, was arrested Monday on charges of child neglect and failing to report child neglect, then released from the Pinellas County jail after posting $55,000 bail.
The child was released from the hospital and recovering at home on Friday, said Pinellas Park police Capt. Adam Geissenberger.
Thomas remained in the Hillsborough jail late Friday, held in lieu of $150,000 bail. He will soon be transferred to the Pinellas County jail.
The charges against Thomas and West will be resolved in Pinellas County.
Times staff writer Romy Ellenbogen contributed to this report.