The Louisiana officer who was caught on video arresting a middle school teacher during a tense school board meeting this week was named a defendant in a 2012 excessive force lawsuit stemming from an incident in which an elderly man was slammed against concrete during an arrest.
Reggie Hilts, 31, who currently serves as a deputy city marshal in Abbeville, has been identified as the school resource officer who forcibly removed middle school English teacher Deyshia Hargrave from a Vermilion Parish School Board meeting on Monday after she publicly criticized the superintendent’s $38,000 pay raise.
Videos of Hargrave’s arrest have gone viral on social media and received widespread media coverage. The American Civil Liberties Union and Hargrave’s teachers union are investigating.
Hargrave told the Associated Press she believes Vermilion Parish School Board President Anthony Fontana should resign over the incident. She declined to suggest any discipline for Sgt Hilts, but said ‘he needs training.’
Past revealed: Abbeville Deputy City Marshal Reggie Hilts (left), 31, who was captured on video arresting middle school teacher Deyshia Hargrave (right) on Monday, was once accused of using excessive force
This screenshot shows the middle school language arts teacher in Louisiana getting forcibly removed in handcuffs from Monday’s school board meeting
In this image made from a video provided by KATC-TV, Hargrave is handcuffed by Hilts after complying with his orders to leave the metting
‘Whether he needs to lose his job, I don’t know,’ she added.
Hilts was a police officer in Scott, Louisiana, in September 2011 when he and another officer were accused of slamming an ailing 62-year-old man’s head on a concrete slab during an arrest, causing him injuries, reported NBC News.
The officers were sued in federal court for civil rights violations but denied that excessive force was used. They said the man, identified in court documents as Bruce Falcon, was uncooperative and resisted arrest after city crews were dispatched to cut grass and weeds on his property.
According to the lawsuit filed in 2012, Falcon was telling Hilts and his partner that the crew was cutting the grass on the wrong lot when the cops shoved him against a door ‘without any probable cause whatsoever’ and then slammed his head against concrete, causing a laceration that bled profusely and required six staples, as well as a fractured rib and bruises on his face and arms.
Falcon said in the lawsuit that he suffers from hepatitis C and chronic cirrhosis of the liver, and that he had been warned by doctors that any cut or bruise could result in his bleeding to death.
The man’s excessive force complaint was settled for more than $200,000 and dismissed in 2016. The Scott police chief said Hilts left the department in November 2011 for reasons having nothing to do with the incident.
Hilts joined the Abbeville City Marshal’s office in 2012, and he also works as a school resource officer through a contract between Abbeville and the school district.
In his free time, Hilts performs reggae music and serves as a pastor at a local church.
On Thursday night, about 100 people chanting ‘Stand by Deyshia’ and waving signs heralding free speech gathered in a light rain to support Hargrave. Near tears at times, she thanked supporters who stood by her after the arrest and emphasized the need to speak out on important issues.
People hold signs at a rally for school teacher Deyshia Hargrave, who was arrested while speaking against the superintendent’s pay raise at an education board meeting earlier this week, in Abbeville, La., Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
‘I hope and pray my experience will empower you – my students, young women everywhere – to know that you have a voice,’ Hargrave told the crowd. ‘Use it. Many, many women suffered tremendously and sacrificed greatly for us to have this voice. … And this is for the boys, too. You matter.’
Earlier, Hargrave told The Associated Press she believes Vermilion Parish School Board President Anthony Fontana should resign.
Hargrave declined, at first, to say with certainty whether she would file a lawsuit over her arrest. ‘We’ll see how it goes,’ she said when asked again. ‘But I clearly feel my First Amendment rights were violated, and I feel like, yeah, there will be a lawsuit filed for that.’
The turmoil followed the board’s 5-3 vote Monday night approving a new three-year contract raising Vermilion Schools Superintendent Jerome Puyau’s salary by $38,000, to about $140,000 annually, with incentive targets that could add 3 per cent a year.
Video of the meeting shows that Hargrave addressed the superintendent directly after raising her hand to speak and being recognized.
Deyshia Hargrave, the Vermilion Parish school teacher who was arrested while speaking against the superintendent’s pay raise at an education board meeting earlier this week, holds her daughter Rynn LeBouef at a rally in her support in Abbeville on Thursday
)Getting her message across: ‘I hope and pray my experience will empower you – my students, young women everywhere – to know that you have a voice,’ Hargrave told the crowd
People hold signs at a rally for Hargrave, which was attended by some 100 supporters
She questioned Puyau’s raise, given that teachers haven’t received an increase in 10 years, despite growing class sizes and other demands.
Fontana then declared that her comment wasn’t ‘germane’ to the vote on the contract, and banged his gavel in an attempt to silence her.
Mugshot: This photo made available by the Abbeville City Jail shows Hargrave’s booking photo from Monday night
According to school board member Kibbie Pillette, Fontana then beckoned off-camera to the officer, who interrupted Hargrave while she was speaking and ordered her out.
‘I’m going,’ she said, making her way out. The officer followed her into the hallway, where moments later, a camera recorded her on the floor with her hands behind her back, being handcuffed and complaining that the officer had pushed her down.
The teacher was booked into the city jail on charges of resisting an officer and remaining after being forbidden, and later bonded out. The local prosecutor said he won’t pursue the charges against her.
Following her arrest, Hargrave bonded out and returned to work on Wednesday.
Asked by the AP on Thursday who’s directly to blame for the incident, Hargrave said ‘Anthony Fontana.’
Fontana has not returned calls for an interview with the AP, but has defended his actions and that of the officer.
Jennifer Meaux holds a sign calling for the resignation of Vermilion Parish School Board President Anthony Fontana
Hargrave, facing left, hugs her friend Marcella Manuel before she walks to a rally in her support
Teachers bow their heads in prayer at the start of a rally for Deyshia Hargrave
Sydney Brown, 6, and Josiah Brevis, 8, hold a sign expressing gratitude for teachers
Hilts hasn’t spoken publicly about Hargrave’s arrest.
‘He’s a very good guy, he’s a pastor, respectable citizen here, and is well-respected in the community,’ Puyau told the AP. ‘Students and teachers love him.’
A teacher who attended Thursday’s rally agreed.
Alicia LaSalle is a second-year teacher at the school where Hilts works as a resource officer. LaSalle said Hilts is on hand to stop altercations or other problems among students in. She adds that Hilts has a good relationship with students and teachers.
‘Honestly, he is very well liked at our school,’ she said.
‘I agree she should not have been arrested,’ LaSalle said. ‘Personally, I don’t think he would have arrested her if it was up to him.’
Puyau, who said he began receiving hate mail and threatening phone calls as the video spread on the internet, wouldn’t comment on who ordered the teacher’s removal, but said he’s not happy 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.’