Teacher’s assistant charged with abuse of student

POWELL — A teacher’s assistant was arrested April 18 and charged with abuse of a vulnerable adult stemming from an October incident in which she allegedly beat a special education student with an ice scraper. 

Special education paraeducator Brandy Wetherbee is no longer employed by Park County School District 1 following an investigation. 

Wetherbee’s April 21 termination was approved at the April 26 school board meeting. 

“The physical and emotional safety of our students is paramount to receiving a good education. As per law, the district reports all incidents of alleged abuse of any student to DFS or Law Enforcement and allows the system to work,” said Superintendent Jay Curtis. “When and if those investigations produce additional information, we act on that information expeditiously.” 

The Park County Sheriff’s Office was contacted on Jan. 28 by Curtis. 

According to the affidavit written by Deputy Allen Cooper, Curtis was contacted several days prior by an anonymous caller who reported the October incident. The caller was later identified as an eyewitness. 

The abuse was reported to have occurred on about Oct. 5, 2021 near U.S. Highway 14-A and Beacon Hill Road as Wetherbee, paraeducator Sue Swistak and two students were traveling back to the school from an appointment in Cody. 

The special education student in question began to experience a “meltdown” which the affidavit noted included hitting or kicking. 

According to the anonymous caller, Wetherbee hit the special education student with an ice scraper while yelling for her to “shut up.” 

During the investigation, Cooper interviewed multiple sources including Swistak, Wetherbee and the student’s parents. The student’s parents reported bruising on her chest, armpit and upper left thigh around that time but said that with their daughter’s condition this is not unusual, according to the affidavit. The parents did note that they are usually notified by the school when to expect bruising from activities such as swimming and skiing. 

In an interview with Cooper, Swistak said she and Wetherbee were called to pick the student up from her appointment early. 

Wetherbee was in the second bench seat in the van on the far right hand side and the second student was on the far left hand side. The alleged victim was in the third seat, directly behind Wetherbee. 

The student is known to reach for people and objects when upset; she began to do so and was grabbing boots from the back. Swistak pulled the car over to move items in the back to the front seat, out of the student’s reach. 

At this point, Wetherbee had become agitated and was holding an ice scraper. 

“Swistak stated Brandy Wetherbee held an ice scraper with a long handle and screamed and yelled at (the student), getting her more hysterical. Swistak said that Wetherbee yells at (the student), ‘Shut the ‘f’ up! Shut the ‘f’ up!’,” Cooper said in the affidavit. 

Swistak described Wetherbee as “beating her on her left side.” She added that Wetherbee hit the student with the ice scraper five or six times. 

Swistak took part in a followup interview that was consistent with her initial account of events. When interviewed, Wetherbee contradicted Swistak, herself and her report that was completed immediately following the incident. 

Wetherbee is currently out on signature bond; the preliminary hearing is scheduled for June1, 2022. If convicted, abuse of a vulnerable minor is a felony offense that can carry up to 10 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.