A man who was charged with punching a Salem school bus driver last winter will serve 88 days in jail under the terms of a plea agreement accepted Wednesday.
Shannon Duane Aliff, 41, was charged in January after boarding a school bus that was picking up students and striking the driver multiple times, officials said.
The driver, Johnny Paul Couch, who was 70 at the time, also ended up being charged after authorities learned he’d been in contact with a 16-year-old girl who said he had shown up at her place of work the day before and kissed her against her will, according to a search warrant.
Aliff is related to the victim in that case. He had learned about what happened only a few minutes before he confronted Couch, his attorney said.
The circumstances of the cases were certainly unusual, said Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Bowers. Couch, who was convicted of assault and contributing to the delinquency of a minor in July, was in court one day as the defendant and back again shortly after as the victim.
Bowers said he’s heard comments in the community suggesting that Aliff shouldn’t be penalized. But he countered that there must be consequences for making poor decisions that violate the law.
The plea agreement aims to strike a fair balance, he added. “I think justice is served by what we’re going to do here today.”
Under the agreement, Aliff pleaded no contest to a felony charge of unlawful wounding and a misdemeanor count of contributing to the delinquency of minors.
The unlawful wounding charge was taken under advisement for two years. If Aliff remains of good behavior, it will be downgraded to misdemeanor assault and battery at the end of that period, allowing him to avoid a felony conviction.
Aliff must serve 88 days in jail, perform 100 hours of community service and complete an anger management program.
In court Wednesday, he said he was remorseful for what he did. These months have been difficult for his family, he added.
“I hate that all this happened,” he said.
Defense attorney David Robinson said he thought Aliff could have made a strong case at trial given Couch’s actions.
But ultimately, he said, Aliff didn’t want to put his teenage relative through it and didn’t want to run the risk of a felony conviction.
Aliff accepts responsibility for what he did, Robinson added, but said Salemites should be grateful that this led to getting Couch away from students. Couch was immediately fired from his job as a bus driver.
Circuit Judge Chris Clemens cautioned, however, that Aliff and others shouldn’t believe his actions that morning were right.
The right thing to do would have been to contact authorities, he said. Investigators would have handled the matter, and students on the bus wouldn’t have had to see an assault.
“We are a society of laws and order,” Clemens said. “This is not acceptable behavior.”
Clemens added he believed Aliff was taking the matter seriously. His case will come back for review after the end of the two-year period in 2021.