A Broussard mom’s civil rights may have been violated Wednesday when police arrested her for posting a video to social media that shows a fight between two high school students.
Maegan Adkins-Barras, 32, spent the night in jail for unlawful posting of criminal activity for notoriety and publicity after she posted a fight her son captured on video at Acadiana High School in Lafayette.
But the law she allegedly broke appears to apply only to "a person who is either a principal or accessory to a crime."
Franz Borghardt, a criminal defense attorney who has taught criminal litigation at the LSU Law School, said he had never even heard of the law until Adkins-Barras was arrested.
"The police are going to have some hurdles," said Borghardt, who is not representing Adkins-Barras. "They're going to have to either establish that she was a principal or accessory to the fight, and that means they're going to have to establish that she was there and somehow started or encouraged the fight.
"But more so, they'll have to establish that she posted it to social media to establish notoriety or publicity," he said. "Just because you post something on social media doesn't mean you're looking for that. You can share ideas and thoughts. I think they'll have a serious constitutional problem with this crime. I think it just smells of desperation in the sense that they're trying to fit a square peg in a round hole."
When a fistfight broke out at Acadiana High School, America being fully digitized by now, a student recorded some of the event on a cellphone.…
The fight between two students at Acadiana High resulted in one student being taken to a hospital for treatment of minor injuries; the student has since been released. The students have not been identified because of their ages, but both have been recommended for expulsion and are facing criminal charges, according to police and Lafayette Parish School Superintendent Donald Aguillard.
Adkins-Barras' child shot video of the fight but was not otherwise involved in the fight, according to Scott Police Chief Chad Leger. The child sent the video to his mother, who posted it to social media.
An Acadiana High school resource officer contacted Adkins-Barras when he learned of the video’s existence and arrested the mom even after she removed the video from Facebook, according to the arrest affidavit.
“The affidavit fails to state how she is a principal or an accessory to the fight,” Borghardt said. “The affidavit fails to state how she is accessory or principal to a crime. I am unsure how the facts written in this report meet the elements of the crime and how the officer has probable cause for the arrest.”
Adkins-Barras was released Thursday morning from the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center. She did not respond to a request for comment sent via Facebook.
Although Leger issued a statement on the department's Facebook page, he's declined to answer additional questions about the circumstances surrounding the arrest — primarily if Adkins-Barras could in any way be considered a principal or accessory to the fight on Acadiana High's campus.
"This is all stuff that's going to be sent to the DA's office for review," Leger said. "I'm not trying to be complicated, but I have five other reporters calling me. I don't understand why. I've talked to our city's legal attorney, and that's our comments on the matter right now."
Aguillard said there is a growing concern over criminal activity involving juveniles showing up on social media, especially when that activity occurs on a school campus.
"This is a new law that was called to our attention by law enforcement," Aguillard said. "We're going to put a notice of this in our student handbook next year."
The “new” law passed unanimously in 2008 and was signed by then-Gov. Bobby Jindal. It appears to be little applied, if ever.
Scott Sternberg, who represents The Acadiana Advocate and other newspapers for the Louisiana Press Association, is not a criminal attorney but does question the arrest.
"I'm 100 percent sure that the idea behind this law was not to present a First Amendment problem," Sternberg said. "It was to deter criminal activity. I don't see how arresting someone who wasn't a principal or accessory to a crime deters. It's extremely suspect."
Aguillard and members of the school board learned of the video Wednesday morning. Adkins-Barras did not reach out to the school system about the fight or the video, although she might have reached out directly to Acadiana High, Aguillard said.
He said he learned of the arrest of Adkins-Barras through media reports.
"Once the student is disciplined by the school, the police will make an arrest if they determine it's a criminal act," Aguillard said. "They don't advise us or consult with us about it. They do what they think is appropriate if it was a criminal act."
Lafayette criminal lawyer Kirk Piccione said Adkins-Barras could file a civil rights lawsuit against the Scott Police Department.
"The Scott Police Department could have liability for making a false arrest," Piccione said. "The courts give a lot of leeway to police making arrests, but at some point, you get to the stage where there is simply no support, no probable cause, no reasonable person could agree that probable cause existed — unless there is evidence that she is a principal or an accessory."
The police chief said he isn't worried about a lawsuit.
"Anybody can sue anybody for anything these days," Leger said. "Is it something that concerns me? No. Is it something that can happen? Yes."