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Former Poudre School District paraprofessional faces more than 100 charges related to alleged child abuse

Attorney files notices of injury with Poudre School District
Former Poudre School District employee facing over 100 charges related to alleged child abuse, parents seek justice for children
Posted at 9:20 AM, Jun 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-08 11:20:34-04

FORT COLLINS — Prosecutors have filed more than 100 charges against a former Poudre School District paraprofessional who was fired after allegations of child abuse.

Tyler Zanella was arrested at the end of May after Fort Collins police reported surveillance video from a school bus allegedly showed Zanella hitting young children. Police identified a total of 6 students in the videos, and reported all of them were determined to be at-risk due to disabilities.

As of Tuesday, Zanella's bond was increased to $40,000 according to court records.

Parents who attended Zanella's first court appearance left the hearing feeling even more unsettled than they have in the past two weeks. Priscilla Muller was one of them.

“We want justice," Muller said. "We don't want anything like that to ever happen again.”

Muller claims her 8-year-old son, who has autism, was one of the victims. She said she watched seven different videos where Zanella was recorded allegedly abusing her child on the bus.

"The footage is really hard to watch," Muller said. “It's him getting on the bus, sitting down, and then Tyler just randomly punching him in the arm, hitting him in the back of the head... He told my son to get off the bus, and as he was walking by him, he was tripping him and hitting him in the head.”

Muller said Zanella also verbally abused her son, claiming he called the child a "bad kid" and other things she could not repeat on camera.

“Because my son can process bad from good, as soon as he heard, 'I'm a bad kid,' he thought he did something wrong. So he instantly started covering his ears, because he was confused," the mother explained. "He covers his ears and then starts humming or singing to himself a little bit, just to tune out the world basically."

Muller believes Zanella targeted certain students on purpose.

“They don't have a voice, and I feel like he victimized them because they weren't able to tell what was going on," Muller said.

She was shocked to learn Zanella had a child abuse arrest from 2012. The case was dismissed after he plead guilty to a child abuse - negligence - no injury misdemeanor.

“If I would have known that, from a mother standpoint, that I'm letting somebody that has previous child abuse charges take care of my son with special needs that needs extra attention, extra patience, and everything, I would not send him on the bus in the first place," Muller said.

Stephen Baity has been hired as Muller's attorney. He has already filed a notice of injury letter with the Poudre School District on behalf of another family who is in the same situation as Muller.

The notice from the other family said "economic damages are yet to be determined, but are estimated to exceed a combined $400,000."

Baity said he was struck by the extent of the alleged abuse and has many questions he wants answered.

“In order to bring claims against governmental immunity, you have to provide notice. And so, what we have done is met the statutory requirements of providing a notice to the school district of the claim here and that we intend to investigate, and if necessary, proceed with the claim," Baity said. “The government makes the rules, and in order to sue the government, they limit who can sue and under what circumstances. And one of the requirements that the government has is to provide them written notice, within a certain limited period of time, before you can bring claims. And if you don't provide the right notice within the right time period, you lose your ability to bring a claim.”

A spokesperson for the school district confirmed they received the injury notice letter from an attorney representing the family in question, but will not comment further at this time.

Like members of our community, we are appalled by these events. Those of us who work in public education dedicate ourselves to our communities’ students, and it is infuriating and heartbreaking that someone would break this sacred trust with our children and families.

Although we followed laws and employment practices for Mr. Tyler Zanella’s hiring, an external party is conducting an independent review of the situation. District staff will also continue to support any investigation by law enforcement.
Superintendent Brian Kingsley

A letter from PSD sent to the Shepardson STEM Elementary School community said Zanella was hired at the end of August 2022, and was fired on May 24.

Court dockets show Zanella's next court appearance will be a hearing on bond, and is scheduled for June 15 at 8:30 a.m.

Fort Collins police ask anyone with information about Zanella to call Detective Brandon Wootan at (970) 295-9208.