By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
A teacher’s assistant from Powell has been fired and charged with the abuse of a vulnerable adult after allegedly beating a special education student with an ice scraper last fall.
Brandy Wetherbee, 40, is charged with the abuse of a vulnerable adult, a felony with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, and two counts interference with a peace officer, a misdemeanor that comes with a maximum penalty of one year in prison per count.
Wetherbee was charged on April 18 with the offenses and was fired just days later by Park County School District No. 1 officials in a move approved by the district’s board of trustees last week.
According to court documents, PCSD1 Superintendent Jay Curtis contacted Park County Sheriff’s officials in January about an alleged assault that took place in October 2021. The victim is a 21-year-old PCSD1 student with a cognitive disability.
According to Curtis, his office received a phone call two days earlier from a woman who only identified herself as “Mary,” who was later identified as a witness to the incident. During the call, she described the assault that took place on a road near Cody.
“Mary” told Curtis’ office that the victim was being transported in a car from an appointment in Cody when she experienced a “meltdown” and began hitting and kicking. The victim was accompanied by paraeducators Wetherbee and Sue Swistak and another special needs student.
“Mary” described Wetherbee yelling “shut up” at the victim and hitting the student with an ice scraper.
Police contacted the victim’s father, who said that because of the victim’s disability, bruises are common. However, he did remember a bruise occurring around the time of the alleged assault on the victim’s thigh that was the size of a racquetball and a “dark…angry color.”
The victim’s mother recalled a bruise on the girl’s chest near her armpit that the mother thought was odd. However, she noted that the girl regularly is bruised due to participating in outdoor activities such as snowshoeing, so the victim’s parents thought the bruises were common injuries, but were somewhat suspicious, court documents said.
Swistak, when speaking with investigators about the incident, said on the afternoon the alleged assault occurred, she and Wetherbee were contacted by Northern Inc., a social services organization in Cody, to pick up the victim.
The girl was crying when she was picked up by the paraeducators. Wetherbee tossed Swistak the keys and said she would “handle” the victim, documents said.
The victim was sitting directly behind Wetherbee in the vehicle. Swistak told investigators the girl was grabbing at both Wetherbee and the other student in the car something she does regularly when upset.
The girl was also throwing books around the car. According to Swistak, Wetherbee was holding an ice scraper and told the victim to “shut the [expletive] up” and hit her with the scraper around five or six times.
Swistak told investigators she offered to switch places with Weatherbee, but Wetherbee declined and told her colleague “You saw nothing.”
When asked why she did not report the incident, Swistak said it was because of the people she worked with and that she felt guilty for not sharing the information earlier.
“I don’t know why [Wetherbee] felt she had to physically harm her,” Swistak told police.
Wetherbee was interviewed by police at her home the day after Swistak. She confirmed that the victim was being restless in the car and was kicking, hitting and spitting at the other student.
Wetherbee told investigators the victim was throwing things in the car, which caused Swistak to stop the vehicle multiple times so the items could be secured.
At one point, Wetherbee sat next to the victim, who then spat on the paraeducator, she said. Wetherbee said she held the victim’s arms down and also was on the phone with the school, asking for additional help once they arrived.
She denied hitting the girl with an ice scraper, but she did say that the victim had hit her several times during the car ride, court documents said.
Wetherbee contradicted Swistak during some of her interview regarding a restraint used while the victim was in the car, police found.
Wetherbee has been released on bond and her preliminary hearing is set for June 1.
PCSD1 posted a job advertisement for two special education resource teachers last week after Wehterbee’s firing.