Former Poudre School District paraprofessional pleads guilty to child abuse, assault, harassment

A former Poudre School District paraprofessional who faced over 160 charges of child abuse, harassment and assault after he was arrested for hitting a kindergarten student with disabilities has pleaded guilty to 11 charges, according to online court records.

Tyler Zanella, 37, pleaded guilty Jan. 29 in Larimer County District Court to seven counts of assault causing bodily injury to an at-risk person, two counts of harassment and two counts of child abuse, online records show. The rest of the 164 charges he faced were dismissed as part of the plea deal.

Zanella was arrested May 23, 2023, after surveillance footage from a school bus showed Zanella striking a disabled student on multiple days, according to a Fort Collins Police Services news release from the day after his arrest.

Additionally, a lawsuit filed in September on behalf of six Poudre School District students and their guardians accused Zanella of repeated abuse carried out over the 2022-2023 school year.

Online court records show the offenses Zanella pleaded guilty to happened between March 30, 2023, and April 25, 2023.

The lawsuit alleged video footage showed Zanella hitting a child in the head with his fist and cell phone, ramming the child’s head into school bus windows and mocking the child.

Other videos showed Zanella hitting two other children on the head similarly. On one occasion, video shows Zanella hitting a child on the head on both the morning and evening bus rides as well as mocking the boy and calling him derogatory names.

The lawsuit further alleged Poudre School District officials failed to prevent Zanella from physically and sexually abusing disabled children on a school bus, despite receiving parent complaints and knowing the man had pleaded guilty to child abuse.

The children who were abused ranged from 6 to 11 years old and were all strapped into bus seats when it occurred, according to the lawsuit.

Two parents on separate occasions complained about the abuse, but a teacher in one instance did not report the abuse and a school principal in the other instance did not review video footage from the bus, according to the lawsuit.

Zanella was hired in August 2022 as a paraprofessional for disabled students despite the district knowing he had pleaded guilty to child abuse in 2012 and had previous drunken driving arrests and convictions, including shortly before he started work, according to the lawsuit.

Zanella is scheduled to be sentenced April 12.

The seven assault charges are class 6 felonies with possible sentences of a year to 18 months in prison and $1,000 to $100,000 in fines each. The harassment and child abuse charges are misdemeanors with possible sentences of up to 364 days in prison and/or fines of up to $1,000.

If Zanella is sentenced to the maximum on each assault charge and is set to serve them consecutively, he could spend more than a decade in prison.

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