Louisiana's attorney general is suing a local school board for stifling public debate following the video-recorded arrest and rough handcuffing of a teacher who asked questions during a January meeting.
Attorney General Jeff Landry filed a lawsuit accusing the Vermillion Parish School Board of violating the state’s Open Meetings Law, and seeks civil penalties against any board members found responsible for violating the law.
At the Jan. 8 meeting, Deyshia Hargrave, a middle school teacher, criticized Schools Superintendent Jerome Puyau’s roughly $30,000 pay raise, which brought his salary to about $140,000 annually.
Hargrave, who taught English, was arrested and wrestled to the hallway floor in a viral video that sparked outrage.
She said the suit is good news for “anyone who speaks at public meetings.”
“It has been the most stressful two months of thinking that nothing was going to happened and that all this happened for nothing – and something has happened,” Hargrave said outside the Kaplan school where she teaches.
"It has been the most stressful two months of thinking that nothing was going to happened and that all this happened for nothing – and something has happened."
The suit asks a state court to nullify all actions by the board in that meeting, including its vote for Puyau’s salary increase. It further asks that the school system be reimbursed for any extra money the superintendent received under his raise.
Puyau has said he began receiving hate mail and threatening phone calls as the video spread on the internet.
Landry's suit said the school board conducted the meeting "in an atmosphere that was hostile toward and contemptuous of" parish residents who attended it.
Hargrave also believes her First Amendment right to free speech was violated.
Subsequently, the lawsuit said her arrest was a culmination of actions from the board that caused “irreparable injury to the citizens present at the meeting by effectively excluding them from participation,” Lafayette, La.'s KADN-TV reported.
The maximum civil penalty for a violation of the Open Meetings Law is $100 per violation, the report said.
Vermilion School Board President Anthony Fontana, a defendant in the suit, resigned from the board two weeks after the meeting.
Vermillion Parish is about 150 miles west of New Orleans.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.