ABBEVILLE, La. (AP) — The city marshal who handcuffed and arrested a Louisiana teacher in videos that sparked internet outrage was a defendant in a lawsuit alleging excessive force in 2011.
Reggie Hilts, now a marshal in Abbeville, was a police officer in the city of Scott when the incident occurred. He and another officer were accused in a federal lawsuit of slamming an ailing 62-year-old man’s head on a concrete slab during an arrest.
The officers denied excessive force was used. They said the man was uncooperative and resisted arrest after city crews were dispatched to cut grass and weeds on his property.
The suit, filed in 2012, was settled in 2016. The Scott police chief said Hilts left the department in November 2011 for reasons having nothing to do with the incident.
Hilts, who works as a school resource officer at J.H. Williams Middle School in Vermilion Parish, hasn’t spoken publicly about the Monday arrest of Deyshia Hargrave. Vermilion Parish Schools Superintendent Jerome Puyau told The Associated Press that Hilts is also a local pastor.
“He’s a very good guy, he’s a pastor, respectable citizen here, and is well-respected in the community,” Puyau said. “Students and teachers love him.”
Supporters of Hargrave planned an afternoon rally Thursday as reaction to her ejection from the Vermilion Parish School meeting — and her subsequent arrest and manhandling in a hallway outside the meeting room — continued.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday he saw nothing on the videos that warranted her rough treatment. Meanwhile, Puyau said he, his staff and his family have received death threats.
Hargrave returned to the classroom Wednesday. The local prosecutor said he won’t pursue charges against the teacher, who was appalled by her treatment and grateful for support from students, parents and others.
“By taking away my voice they’ve taken away — or tried to take away — my First Amendment rights to speak,” Hargrave said in a video posted on the Louisiana Association of Educators’ Facebook page. “Go to your local school board meetings,” Hargrave said. “Speak out. Be vocal.”
Gov. Edwards, who is married to a teacher and gets support from teacher unions, said he “didn’t see anything that warranted that type of action.”
Puyau said the hate emails and phone calls began pouring in after videos of the incident spread.
“I’ve stopped reading them because they’re just so bad and disgusting,” Puyau said, at times struggling to compose himself in an interview. He said the school system offices went into temporary lockdown, and his daughters had to delete threats on their social media.
The turmoil follows the board’s 5-3 vote Monday night approving a new 3-year contract raising Puyau’s salary by roughly $30,000, to about $140,000 annually, with incentive targets that could add 3 percent a year.
He said the raise matches what other school officials make in similar jobs.
Hargrave, a middle school English teacher, said she felt like she was representing all teachers in the parish by questioning the raise, at a time when teachers haven’t received an increase in 10 years, despite growing class sizes and other demands.
In an interview that aired Thursday morning on NBC, Hargrave said she hopes the ordeal prompts others to get more involved in education.
“It’s sad that a woman has to be forcibly, violently removed from a board meeting for people to start caring,” she said in the interview.
“I’m hoping for teachers, people outside of education to have a voice, show up – you don’t have to say anything, just show up , just do something,” she added.
Video of the meeting shows that Hargrave addressed the superintendent directly after raising her hand to speak and being recognized. After a verbal exchange, school board member Kibbie Pillette said Vermilion Parish School Board President Anthony Fontana beckoned to a school resource officer hired by the board, who confronted Hargrave, ordering her to get her things and go.
“I’m going,” she said, making her way out. Moments later — after briefly leaving the view of any cameras — she was on the hallway floor with her hands behind her back, being handcuffed and complaining that the officer was hurting her.
“Stop resisting,” the marshal said, lifting Hargrave to her feet.
“I am not, you just pushed me to the floor,” Hargrave said.
Puyau said he did not order Hargrave’s removal or arrest. While refusing to comment on details, Puyau made clear that he was unhappy with how things played out.
“It was not good in any way,” he said. “We are a good community. It took everybody by surprise. I’m having a hard time with this, but we care about our teachers and our support staff.”
Fontana did not return phone messages Wednesday.
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