District Attorney Hillar Moore said Tuesday he is looking into a confrontation among an East Baton Rouge Parish School Board member and young adults partying in a south Baton Rouge home to determine whether she should be prosecuted.
Sheriff’s deputies responding to the home late Friday issued a misdemeanor summons to Connie Bernard, accusing her of entering and remaining after forbidden. Bernard apologized Monday for her language, which included a string of eight F-bombs in one 22-second stretch.
The youth had called 911 after Bernard entered the home in the Lakeside subdivision and confronted partygoers. A video showed her grasping one young man at the base of his neck, but deputies did not cite her for committing any act of violence.
“I didn’t touch anybody you f****** bastard,” she says in the video after the confrontation moved to the front lawn.
Moore said Tuesday that his office is interviewing witnesses as part of its own review of the case. Moore’s office has to decide whether to prosecute the matter.
An East Baton Rouge Parish School Board member landed in hot water Friday after a confrontation involving a party at a neighbor's home.
In her short statement Monday, Bernard apologized to a degree.
“Specifically, I would like to apologize for my language heard in that incident,” Bernard said.
She said she’s sorry for “any embarrassment and concern” that she may have caused her family and friends, and she apologized for “distracting from the important work our students, educators and staff are doing.”
Her statement didn’t explain why she went to the home. Saturday, she told The Advocate she went to the home on High Lake Drive, which is down the street from her home, after hearing loud noises. She said she knocked on the door and knows the owners of the home, whom she called “close personal friends.” The home is being rented.
“I hope everyone understands that I am not able to comment any further on this incident,” she said Monday.
Can't see video below? Click here. (Warning: The video below contains explicit language).
Moore confirmed late Tuesday that Bernard had called him the night of the party, just after 10 p.m. He said she called after the incident and he was never "on his way" and had no plans to go out there. He said they spoke for about four minutes.
Moore said Bernard at one point asked him if he was going to come out to the scene. He said, "No." He then asked to speak to the deputy working the scene. They spoke briefly and he told him to use his judgment and "Do whatever you have to do."
Moore said he hasn't as yet watched the video from that night that later surfaced but it has been described to him.
He said his office is just starting looking at this case. The district attorney said his staff will talk to witnesses and their parents. They are also still waiting on the all the reports from the Sheriff's Office.
He said he has no idea whether he will pursue the charge as is, or if he would upgrade it, or lower it or drop it: "All options" are on the table, he said.
In her statement Monday, Bernard makes clear that she plans to remain on the School Board, to which she was first elected in 2010. She was re-elected to the position last month after no challengers emerged to run against her.
“I will continue to work tirelessly in service to our community and humbly ask for your prayers and support,” she said.
Bernard had previously made arrangements to miss this Thursday’s School Board meeting, citing a previous scheduling conflict.
So far, there’s been no indication that Bernard’s fellow School Board members will try to force the issue, and in any case, they likely have little to no legal recourse to actually pull that off even if they were interested.
“I am not aware of any provision of law that allows a school board to unilaterally remove a colleague,” said Domoine Rutledge, general counsel for the school system.
The Louisiana Constitution specifies that an elected official can be removed from office only if the official is convicted of a felony, for malfeasance or for “gross misconduct while in office.” And even then, that person can remain in office while their appeals are pending.
If the official loses all appeals and still refuses to step down, the District Attorney would have to go to court to force that person to leave office.
“The Constitution contemplates that when you remove an elected official from office there ought to be compelling reason to do it,” Rutledge said.
Another legal way of removing an elected official from office is through a recall. But to hold a recall election in Louisiana, at least one-third of the registered voters in Bernard’s southeast Baton Rouge District 8 — that's more than 10,000 people — would have to sign a recall petition.
Deputies were called to the house on High Lake Drive Friday night after someone reported that a stranger entered someone's house, according to the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office's incident report.
When deputies arrived, Bernard was in the middle of the road and flagged them down. She told them there was a party going on at one of homes so she "went inside of the residence to investigate and take pictures," according to the incident report.
The man who reported Bernard to law enforcement told deputies that Bernard came inside through an unlocked door and wouldn't leave even though he asked her to go several times.
At one point, Bernard could be seen on the video grabbing an 18-year-old man who had taken Bernard's phone. She was told she could only have it back if she left the premises. The man told deputies he did not want to press charges.
Bernard's full statement of apology is below:
“In response to recent news reports about an incident in my neighborhood Friday night, first, as a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, I want to offer an apology for distracting from the important work our students, educators and staff are doing.
Second, as a wife, mother and friend, I would like to apologize to my family and friends for any embarrassment and concern I may have caused them. Specifically, I would like to apologize for my language heard in that incident.
I am grateful for the outpouring of love and support from colleagues, friends and family over the weekend. I will continue to work tirelessly in service to our community and humbly ask for your prayers and support. I hope everyone understands that I am not able to comment any further on this incident. I plan to continue in my responsibilities and I will continue to work to maintain your trust and respect."
This story has been corrected to show that the house is in the Lakeside subdivision.