Mark Ebarb

Mark Ebarb

GONZALES — A Dutchtown High School teacher accused of sending years of inappropriate messages and photographs to underage students has pleaded not guilty to a sole criminal count tied to the allegations. 

Mark Ebarb, 32, appeared with his attorney Tuesday for arraignment at the Ascension Parish Courthouse Annex and entered a not guilty plea to one count of indecent behavior with juveniles.

Attorney Joel Murphy had his hand on Ebarb's back shoulder as he listened to the clerk read the charge out loud and the not guilty plea was declared.

Ebarb, who remains an Ascension public schools employee but is on unpaid leave, is a former Ascension Parish teacher of the year and finalist for the state title in 2014-15 who had also been recognized for his community work.

Murphy didn't allow his client to speak to a reporter after the hearing but said his client has pleaded not guilty and that he and his client are waiting on prosecutors and sheriff's deputies to provide what they have collected in connection with the case. 

At the time of Ebarb's arrest late last year, neither prosecutors nor the Dec. 3 grand jury indictment had described the content of the messages and images that Ebarb has been accused of sharing via social media since Aug. 1, 2014. Prosecutors have said the charge is a blanket count reflective of several allegations involving multiple students. 

The statute under which Ebarb is charged — La. R.S. 14:81(A)(1) — involves someone committing a "lewd and lascivious act with the intent of arousing or gratifying the sexual desires of either person."

Ebarb, 10298 W. Winston Ave., Baton Rouge, turned himself in to sheriff's deputies the day after the indictment but has since been released on $75,000 bail, court filings show.

Murphy said his client has been on unpaid leave from the school system.

Though 23rd Judicial District Judge Tess Stromberg presided over the arraignment Tuesday, Judge Thomas Kliebert Jr., also of the 23rd JDC, will handle Ebarb's case. 

Email David J. Mitchell at dmitchell@theadvocate.com

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