The arrest of a teacher who had just been kicked out of a Vermilion Parish School Board meeting Monday after criticizing a vote to give the superintendent a raise is drawing widespread criticism — including from two board members, who said they are appalled by the incident.
A 12-minute video of the arrest of Deyshia Hargrave shot by a local reporter went viral Tuesday, with about 600,000 views on YouTube as of 4:30 p.m. National outlets picked up the story, and there was swift outrage.
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Ike Funderburk, Abbeville's city attorney and prosecutor, told KATC-TV that he has reviewed the video and won't be prosecuting her.
"I have reviewed the video and I am not going to approve any charges against the teacher," Funderburk said. "I talked with the attorney for the School Board, and they do not wish to pursue any charges against the teacher."
It’s not clear exactly what prompted an officer with the Abbeville City Marshal's office to order Hargrave, a teacher at Rene Rost Middle School, to leave the meeting. Also unclear is why the officer handcuffed Hargrave as she walked out, since the video appears to show her complying with the orders to leave.
“She was basically cut off,” School Board member Laura LeBeouf said in an interview, referring to when Hargrave was ordered to leave the board meeting. “I know Deyshia. She serves in my district. She’s outspoken, she’s one heck of a teacher.”
The officer providing security at the board meeting confronted Hargrave while Hargrave addressed the board and school superintendent Jerome Puyau during a public comment period following the vote on the raise.
The board president, Anthony Fontana, had recognized Hargrave’s turn to speak, but interrupted her when she demanded to know why Puyau would accept a raise while teachers received nothing.
The board in a 5-3 vote approved raising Puyau’s pay by about $30,000, from $110,190 to $140,188, according to KATC.
Fontana told Hargrave her comments were not germane to the agenda item under discussion at the time. Hargrave continued to object, saying Puyau was “basically taking from the teachers and the employees under you,” comments that drew the vocal support of several people in the audience.
“This directly speaks to what you have just voted on,” Hargrave said, addressing Fontana about why her comments were germane.
Puyau began to respond directly to Hargrave at the same time the officer walked across the room to confront her. The officer stood in front of Hargrave, obstructing dialogue between her and Puayau, who stopped talking a few seconds after he started.
“He’s addressing me,” Hargrave told the officer, who then threatened to remove Hargrave if she did not leave willingly.
Hargrave said “excuse me” to the officer, in an attempt to continue speaking with Puyau. The officer then moved to grab Hargrave by the elbow, causing Hargrave to jump back. A moment later Hargrave walked back to her seat to retrieve her purse and leave, pausing along the way to remind board members that Puyau had been speaking to her directly.
The incident appeared to be over, but within seconds, Hargrave, screaming in horror, was on the ground near the doorway in handcuffs.
“You just pushed me to the ground,” Hargrave said when the officer told her to stop resisting. “I’m way smaller than you!”
The officer, whose name has not been released, called for an Abbeville city police officer to transport Hargrave to the city jail, where she was booked with remaining after being forbidden and resisting an officer, according to KATC.
The Marshal’s Office did not return a call Tuesday.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana condemned Hargrave’s expulsion from the meeting and subsequent arrest, saying the authorities’ actions “are unacceptable and raise serious constitutional concerns.”
An attorney for the Louisiana Association for Educators, Brian Blackwell, is working with Hargrave on “next steps,” the association said in a statement. The statement added that the association will honor Hargrave’s request to refrain from additional comments, since “the case is ongoing.”
Blackwell said the association contacted him immediately after the incident, and that he was scheduled to meet with Hargrave Tuesday evening to discuss what to do.
“Everything on this has happened extremely fast,” Blackwell said.
Board member Kibbie Pillette, who like LeBeouf voted in the minority against granting a pay raise to the superintendent, criticized the way Fontana, the board’s president, ran the meeting and dealt with Hargrave.
“This is supposed to be a democracy. I’m supposed to allow you an opportunity to state your opinion. He doesn’t allow that,” Pillette said in an interview. “Before she finished her three minutes, he was busy telling her to shut up.”
Fontana did not return a call from the Advocate on Tuesday, nor did board members Sara Duplechain, Chris Hebert and Stacy Landry. However, KATC quoted Fontana as defending the officer.
"He did exactly what he was hired to do. He followed the procedures completely," Fontana told KATC. "She's the one who made the choices that got her arrested."
Board members J.B. Moreno and Chris Gautreaux declined comment.
Puyau the superintendent, referred questions regarding the incident with Hargrave to Fontana, while defending his pay raise in an interview.
He said he agrees that teachers, support staff and other administrators also need raises, but said he hadn’t had a raise since he was hired for the top job five years ago at a salary that was supposed to have been reviewed after two years and adjusted based on his performance.
“It’s placed my salary at a range that’s a little below what the state average is for suprintendents but is commensurate to where our teachers and principals are currently being paid,” Hargrave said in an interview.
A day after the topic led to a teacher's arrest at a Vermilion Parish School Board meeting, Superintendent Jerome Puyau spoke to The Acadiana …
Advocate photographer Leslie Westbrook and KATC-TV contributed to this article.