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Northern Colorado paraprofessional imprisoned for hitting children with autism on school bus

Tyler Zanella sentenced to prison for physically, verbally assaulting students with autism
Tyler Zanella sentenced to prison for physically, verbally assaulting students with autism 03:26

A former northern Colorado paraprofessional, Tyler Zanella, was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison after being convicted of physically and emotionally abusing elementary school students living with autism. 

Zanella was sentenced on multiple felony counts after video footage showed him hitting, kicking, kneeing, slapping, and verbally assaulting autistic children.

Zanella, who was employed by Poudre School District (PSD), received the maximum sentence under a plea agreement with the Larimer County District Attorney's Office.

During the sentencing, Zanella, shackled and wearing a Larimer County Jail jumpsuit, remained silent for over two hours as parents of his victims read statements. 

Judge Daniel McDonald strongly admonished Zanella, stating, "Justice will not be served today. What Mr. Zanella deserves, this court is not permitted to impose." 

McDonald emphasized that the court and law enforcement were protecting Zanella by sentencing him to more than a decade in prison, acknowledging that the victims' families might have desired harsher punishment.


\Zanella had been hired by PSD as a paraprofessional despite having a prior child abuse conviction. His defense attorney attributed the conviction to his alcohol addiction rather than a history of physical abuse. However, both parents and McDonald argued that his past should have disqualified him from working with children.

Priscilla Miller, the mother of one of Zanella's victims, described her son as having been physically assaulted multiple times by Zanella. All of Zanella's victims were between the ages of 5 and 10 years old.

RELATED: Parents rally to address alleged abuse on school bus

Miller's son, who remains unidentified due to his age, was observed being hit and slapped in security videos from the school bus. Miller noted that her son, who is non-verbal and living with autism, suddenly lost his enthusiasm for riding the bus in early 2023. Despite her efforts, she couldn't determine the cause of his distress.

Fortunately, another abused student was able to communicate with their parent, revealing Zanella's mistreatment. The parent reported the incident to PSD, triggering an investigation that uncovered numerous instances of abuse captured on security footage.

Over 160 videos surfaced, showing Zanella pinching, slapping, hitting, and verbally abusing children, many of whom were non-verbal students with autism. 

Prosecutors revealed that Zanella often committed his crimes with his back to the bus driver or checked to ensure the driver wasn't paying attention.

Parents recalled escorting their children to the bus and noticing signs of distress, such as reluctance to board. Sabrina Herrick, another parent of an abused child, expressed dissatisfaction with Zanella's sentence, emphasizing that her child and others would endure the trauma for longer than Zanella's incarceration.

McDonald ordered Zanella not to have contact with anyone under 18, including his own children.

Parents and autism advocates rally to address alleged abuse on school bus 02:53
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