Fallout from the arrest of a middle school teacher in Zachary for allegedly sexually abusing a student continued Tuesday as a city councilman led an emotional protest seeking the termination of the school’s principal while two other council members countered with a quiet prayer vigil.
Most of the protesters were black; most of those at the prayer vigil were white.
“Does Zachary have a race issue?” Councilman Lael Montgomery yelled during the protest.
“Yeah,” the crowd replied.
In the park, by contrast, the scene was quiet and mournful. A handful of ministers tried to find ways to bring calm and healing to a troubled city, while those gathered watched silently.
“God, we just gather in this place with our hearts broken,” said the Rev. Ricky Willis, senior pastor of Zachary United Methodist Church. “We confess and acknowledge the fact that we are in the midst of a broken world and our community is broken and shattered by this news. It’s something that we would only imagine happening somewhere else.”
The racial divide on display Tuesday was unusual for this racially diverse but relatively affluent city that’s home to the number one ranked school district in the state.
A middle school teacher in Zachary accused of sexual abuse of a minor turned herself in to authorities Thursday afternoon after a warrant was …
Ellarea Silva, 34, remained in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on Tuesday, with bail set at $225,000. The science teacher at Northwestern Middle School was arrested Thursday on multiple charges, including indecent behavior with a juvenile.
Silva, who is white, was placed on leave on Jan. 24, the same day authorities say they first learned of the accusation against her. Silva, a 10-year veteran teacher who has tenure protection, remains on leave while the school district conducts its own investigation.
Montgomery has called for the firing of Silva’s principal, Debbie Brian, after she sent him a private email last week criticizing him for posting a Facebook comment critical of Zachary Police, a comment that also revealed details about the Silva case.
Montgomery promptly posted Brian’s email online, saying it was out of line for her to send it to an elected official such as himself and was meant to “put him in his place.”
Both Superintendent Scott Devillier and Zachary Mayor David Amrhein defended Brian at a Monday press conference, saying they support her “100 percent.”
The failure to arrest Silva right away prompted immediate suspicion, Montgomery said.
“When there wasn’t no arrest, my people, we automatically knew what color she was,” said the councilman. “Because guess what? You all lock us up while you do investigations. She gets to go home. We never get to go home.”
Zachary Police Chief David McDavid has repeatedly defended the 13 days it took to arrest Silva, noting that multiple search warrants and subpoenas were necessary and there was a lot of evidence to go through.
McDavid said investigators are aware of only one victim so far but he’s made a public appeal for people who know of other potential victims to come forward.
Montgomery said he’s lost faith in McDavid and wants State Police to take over the investigation.
“State Police, I’m begging you to come investigate this,” he said. “I’m begging you. There are more kids. There are more kids. I have inbox messages telling me that there are more kids.”
Zachary’s police chief, mayor and school superintendent on Monday defended the two weeks it took to investigate a middle school teacher accuse…
The NAACP, which helped Montgomery organize the protest, plans to send letters Wednesday to the State Police and other agencies, seeking their assistance.
Montgomery portrayed himself as the first black leader in Zachary history to bring to light the city’s historic mistreatment of its black residents.
“Zachary has done my people wrong for so long,” he said. “My people ain’t never had nobody stand up for them.”
Brenda Barber, who lives in the African American neighborhood north of the middle school known as “The Avenues,” said she’s known Montgomery for years and trusts him. Barber, who has three grandchildren in Zachary schools, said she also has reason to distrust Brian.
“My cousin has had problems with the same principal before,” Barber said.
A handful of other elected officials came to the protest to support Montgomery, including Zachary School Board member Ann Watkins and state Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, of Baton Rouge. Both said they don’t like the disrespect they’ve seen directed at Montgomery.
“I have a problem with people silencing elected officials,” Marcelle said. “I have a problem when people cannot stand up for their people.”
Councilman Laura O’Brien said the idea of the prayer vigil was to find common ground in the desire for justice and the rooting out of any abuse of children.
“We’re all passionate for the same thing,” O’Brien said.
Zachary Councilman Francis Nezianya was one of the few black individuals at the prayer vigil. He offered a simple plea to close out the vigil: “I ask everyone here to pray for the families involved and pray for unity and ask God to take control and look over the city of Zachary.”