Teacher: Lawsuit over her forced removal seems likely

ABBEVILLE, La. – A Louisiana teacher is ejected from a school board meeting and roughly handcuffed in a video-recorded arrest as she is about her superintendent’s pay increase, said she thinks a lawsuit is likely in the case.

Deyshia Hargrave declined, at first, to say with certainty whether they will file a lawsuit in the case. “We’ll see how it goes,” she said when asked again. “But obviously, I have the feeling that my First Amendment rights were violated, and I feel like, yes, there will be a lawsuit filed.”

About 100 people singing “Stand by Deyshia” and waving signs precursor of the free speech collected in a light rain on Thursday evening in support of Hargrave. Near tears at times, she thanked the supporters who stood by her after the arrest, and the emphasis laid on the need to speak out on important issues.

“I hope and pray my experience will give you strength — my students, young women everywhere — to know that you have a voice,” Hargrave told the crowd. “Use it. Many, many women suffer greatly and sacrificed greatly for us to have this voice. … And this is for the boys also. You matter.”

Earlier, Hargrave told The Associated Press that she believes that the Vermilion Parish school board President Anthony Fontana should resign. They refused to propose any discipline for Reggie Handles, the deputy city marshal who handcuffed her on the hallway floor after they leave the meeting, and pulled her out of the building.

“He should train,” the high school English teacher said. “Or he needs to lose his job, I don’t know.”

The American Civil Liberties Union and its teachers union investigates the matter.

The unrest followed the board of directors 5-3 vote Monday night, the approval of a new three-year contract, the increase of the Vermilion Schools Superintendent Jerome Puyau salary by about $ 30,000 to about $140,000 annual incentive targets that could add 3 percent per year.

Video of the meeting shows that Hargrave directed the inspector immediately after raising her hand to speak, and recognized.

They questioned Puyau to increase, given the fact that the teachers have not received an increase in 10 years, despite growing class sizes and other requirements.

Fontana then declared that her comment was not “relevant” to the vote on the contract, and smote with his hammer in an attempt to silence her. According to the school a member of the board Kibbie Pillette, Fontana, then motioned off-camera to the officer who interrupted Hargrave, when she spoke, and dropped her off.

“I’m going,” she said, making her way. The officer followed her into the corridor, where moments later, a camera recorded her on the floor with her hands behind her back, handcuffs, and complain that the officer had pushed her down.

Asked by the AP on Thursday, which is directly to blame for the incident, Hargrave said: “Anthony Fontana.”

Fontana has not returned calls for an interview with the AP, but defended his conduct and that of the officer.

Handles was accused along with another officer slamming an ailing 62-year-old man’s head on a concrete slab in 2011. He left the city of Scott police later that year for unrelated reasons, the head of the police said. Scott denied the use of excessive force, and the man the federal suit was settled in 2016.

Now a local pastor and a resource officer at J. H. Williams Middle School Vermilion Parish, Handles not spoken publicly about Hargrave’s arrest.

“He is a very good man, he is a pastor, law-abiding citizen here, and is well respected in the community,” Puyau told the AP. “Students and teachers love him.”

A teacher who attended Thursday’s rally agreed.

Alicia LaSalle is a second year teacher at the school where Handles works as a resource officer. LaSalle said Handles is at hand to stop facts or other problems in the students. She adds that the Handles have a good relationship with students and teachers. “To be honest, he is very well liked at our school,” she said.

“I agree she should not have been arrested,” LaSalle said. “Personally, I don’t think he would have arrested her as him.”

Puyau, who said he began receiving hate mail and threatening phone calls as the video spread on the internet, it would not respond and that left the teacher’s removal, but said that he is not happy with how things played out.

“It was not good in any way,” he said. “We are a good community. It took everyone by surprise. I am having a hard time with this, but we care about our teachers and our employees.”


Associated Press reporter Kevin McGill contributed to this story from New Orleans.

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