Teacher’s aide attacked in viral video at Matanzas High School focuses on recovery

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Joan Naydich, whose beating at the hands of a Matanzas High School student was captured in a viral video, wants people to know she is not OK.

She said in an interview this week that some people will ask her that very question after watching the brutal beatdown inflicted on her by Brendan Depa, a former student now awaiting sentencing.

“Nothing’s worse than having people all day long go, ‘Oh, my God. I saw the video! Are you OK?’ Naydich said. ”How could anybody be OK after that? You know, I am definitely not OK after that.”

The video of the attack received international attention, but at least one person has not seen it: Naydich.

Joan Naydich, the teacher's aide who was brutally beaten by a special-needs student at Matanzas High School, talks to The Daytona Beach News-Journal about the attack and her recovery.

Joan Naydich, the teacher’s aide who was brutally beaten by a special-needs student at Matanzas High School, talks to The Daytona Beach News-Journal about the attack and her recovery.

She said she has seen stills. But she does not want to see the video of her beating.

In an interview with The News-Journal last week, the 58-year-old Naydich thanked her family, friends, acquaintances and others who have supported her. She is also thankful to the many who have contributed to a GoFundMe account to help her financially.

Depa was 17 when he beat Naydich on Feb. 21. The 6-foot-6, 270-pound Depa towered over Naydich, who is 5-foot-8 and weighs about 150 ponds.

Depa has since turned 18 and is being held at the Flagler County jail on $1 million bond.

On Oct. 30, Depa entered an open no-contest plea to aggravated battery of a school board employee, a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison. According to state sentencing guidelines, he faces a minimum of 34.5 months in state prison.

The open plea means there was no agreement with Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark on the penalty, including any length of time on incarceration.

Circuit Judge Terence Perkins has scheduled Depa’s sentencing for Jan. 31 at the Kim C. Hammond Justice Center in Bunnell.

The aftermath of the attack on Joan Naydich

Naydich said the beating has left her with a traumatic brain injury. She suffered five broken ribs; three were broken in the front and the back. She has problems with her shoulder. She also has hearing and vision problems. She has been going to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville for treatment and she still does not know the full extent of the injuries.

Naydich has been on medications from a neurologist, a psychiatrist and an orthopedic doctor as she works to recover. She said she is still in pain.

“As far as physically, I’m still going to a lot of doctors,” Naydich said. “Worker’s comp has been less than helpful through the whole situation, to where now it’s a little over eight months since everything happened, and I’m finally getting to certain doctors that I should have been to in the beginning.”

Joan Naydich, the teacher's aide who was brutally beaten by a special-needs student at Matanzas High School, speaks with The Daytona Beach News-Journal about the attack and her recovery so far.

Joan Naydich, the teacher’s aide who was brutally beaten by a special-needs student at Matanzas High School, speaks with The Daytona Beach News-Journal about the attack and her recovery so far.

Depa said Naydich was too old, slow

Naydich said she was assigned to Depa in August 2022. Her job was to escort him from his self-contained classroom where he studied along with three other students. Students in self-contained classrooms in Florida receive special-education services.

She would escort him to lunch, to the nurse and to a cybersecurity class during second period.

She said she didn’t know why she was assigned to escort Depa, adding that she was unaware of the details of his individualized education plan, or IEP.

Naydich said they would talk sometimes as she escorted him. She said Depa wanted a “buddy.” And he would make disparaging comments about her.

“He used to make comments of that I was too old. I was too slow,” Naydich said.

When she would tell him to stay with her, he would tell her to pick up the pace.

But other times, Depa would talk about what he would do after graduating high school and his hopes of going to college.

Video captures brutal attack

The teacher who ran the self-contained classroom allowed Depa to use his Nintendo Switch video game at school, Naydich said.

But after Depa took out the Nintendo during a cybersecurity class, outside the self-contained class, Naydich texted the teacher saying he should not be allowed to take it to the other class.

The teacher agreed and said he could leave it in the self-contained class from now on.

Depa got angry, apparently learning about the texts from Naydich, who was about to go on break.

“He came running up behind me as I was getting ready to leave. He spit at me,” Naydich said. “I turned around to him. And I said, ‘You know, that’s assault.’”

Naydich said she decided to go to the dean’s office where she knew there were deputies.

“Like I wasn’t, I didn’t think that he was going to come after me, but I just wanted to be away from the whole situation,” Naydich said.

But Depa did come after her.

“And all I remember is walking to the door and my hand on the doorknob. And that’s the last I remember until coming to, the last real full thing I remember until coming to at the hospital,” Naydich said.

The video shows Naydich turning around at the last second as Depa knocked her off her feet. Naydich lay face down on the floor as Depa beat her. Naydich’s body shook with the impacts of the blows. People came over and pulled Depa off of her. But even still, Depa continued to kick at her as she lay motionless on the floor.

Later, as Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies escorted a handcuffed Depa away, he passed by Naydich. Depa spit toward her and threatened to kill her.

Naydich said she never touched Depa’s Nintendo Switch as was initially reported. It was still in his backpack when he was arrested.

Judge rules Depa competent

Judge Perkins found Depa mentally competent to proceed in his legal case during a hearing on June 16.

The judge noted that two experts found that Depa suffered from autism spectrum disorder but was also a “bright young man.” The defense expert also testified that Depa suffered from other disorders, including oppositional defiant disorder and unspecified schizophrenia spectrum.

The judge noted that Depa understood the legal proceedings and also read from a report in which Depa noted that “They have video evidence against me.”

As for Depa being autistic, Naydich did not see that as something that would lessen his culpability.

“I believe that every single person that walks this earth has something and whether people are going to label it autistic or not, all I do know is that he did not like to be told ‘No.’ When he was told ‘No’ about anything, that’s when he would have an outburst,” Naydich said.

“He was a smart kid. He knew exactly what he was doing,” Naydich said. “Why he did it. He, he has the answer to that. Why he did it.”

Naydich believes Depa should receive maximum punishment

Brendan Depa appears before Circuit Judge Terence Perkins at the Kim C. Hammond Justice Center in Bunnell, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023.

Brendan Depa appears before Circuit Judge Terence Perkins at the Kim C. Hammond Justice Center in Bunnell, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023.

Naydich said she believes Depa was offered a plea deal that would have sent him to prison for 10 years followed by 20 years of probation. She said that Depa and his attorney rejected the offer.

The State Attorney’s Office did not respond to a text message Friday seeking comment on any plea offer, but prosecutors typically don’t comment on such matters, particularly in an open case like Depa’s. The office was closed Friday in observance of Veterans Day.

Naydich said Depa should get the maximum punishment.

“I’ve got to deal with this for the rest of my life. What I deal with, physically, emotionally, financially, took my pay away. I am not for one second going to help … or let them give him a break.”

“I laid there for dead and how many times he came back at me to make sure or to finish me off or whatever,” Naydich said. “He was thinking that day. There’s no excuse. And I think that he should serve every last day.”

Naydich said that she believes Depa did not belong in a regular school like Matanzas but instead should have attended an alternative school. At least he should have remained in the “self-contained class.”

He should not have been in with “general ed students.”

She said Depa had gotten in a fight on a school bus and was not allowed to ride the bus anymore. A van from his group home took him to class.

Juvenile justice records listed three misdemeanor battery charges against Depa, all of which were filed in 2019 in Hillsborough County.

Depa got in a fight at the Flagler County jail, which was triggered when an inmate told him he was going to prison for attacking Naydich.

Flagler County Schools should do more to help, Naydich says

Naydich said the Flagler County School District’s response has not been enough to support her, to help her get the medical attention she needs or to accommodate her return to work.

Naydich is not working right now and has applied for a leave of absence. She said the school district is asking for medical records showing why she can’t work, but workers’ comp said she can work.

“They are asking for papers that their workers’ comp won’t give me,” Naydich said. “Like nobody will say I cannot work. Everyone is saying that I can.”

She said it is frustrating.

“I feel like under the circumstances of everything they would have advocated for me a little bit more, more than what they did, like having workers’ comp not play games,” Naydich said. “Instead, it’s like I’ve had … I feel like I’ve been victimized twice. And one is by the kid and the second is by the school department.”

She said she has lost her income.

Flagler County School District spokesman Jason Wheeler wrote on Thursday that the district could not respond to any questions regarding an “individual student due to protections afforded them through the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.”

Wheeler wrote that “Flagler Schools would work with any employee who needs accommodations to do their job successfully.”

“Additionally, we understand the worker’s compensation process is daunting. We have people in the district who can work with any employee to navigate this process,” Wheeler wrote.

Future plans put on hold

Naydich said the beating has disrupted her life. She had to stop her studies for an associate of arts degree.

“I was doing online school. I was trying to get my AA. You know, I was in a groove. I was going about my life,” she said.

Naydich works the front desk at a bowling alley during league play at nights. She makes change for the bowlers, if there are any problems with the lane, she calls the mechanic. She said it’s a “controlled environment.”

“A lot of them have been very ‘Hi’ rather than ‘Oh my God!'” said Naydich, adding they support her seeking punishment for Depa.

“They say absolutely you are doing the right thing,” she said.

Naydich said her son, Morgan Naydich, 19, is an excellent bowler who was recognized as bowler of the year for the area. She also has a daughter, Nikki Cummings, 28.

She added she is glad to be alive and to be able to see her adult children prosper.

“If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have the fight in me to continue to keep going,” Naydich said. “I fight for them to be here to see their greatness.”

She intends to make a statement to the court when Depa is sentenced.

“At the end of the day, what he did to me was caught on camera,” Naydich said. “And the video speaks for itself.”

This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Brendan Depa’s victim recounts attack at Matanzas High School

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