The Louisiana teacher arrested at a school board meeting during an altercation caught on camera spoke out at a rally today, saying, "I want change to come from this."
"On Monday night I attended that school board meeting with the intent to best serve my students and our community," Deyshia Hargrave, a teacher at Rene A. Rost Middle School in Kaplan, Louisiana, said at today's rally. "Not only was I denied my First Amendment rights, I was treated with shocking disrespect.
"I want my daughter and my students to be proud of me. I want them to see past the handcuffs and the arrest and I want change to come from this," she said, encouraging people to still attend school board meetings.
"The more of you that show up and go, the less of this kind of stuff will happen," Hargrave said. "I hope and pray my experience will empower you. ... You have a voice."
Hargrave was handcuffed and taken into custody Monday after she was removed from the meeting, where she raised issues about the Vermilion Parish School System superintendent’s new three-year contract that includes a raise, ABC Lafayette affiliate KATC-TV reported. Hargrave has said teachers haven't had a raise in years, according to KATC.
At the meeting an Abbeville city deputy marshal employed by the school district confronted Hargrave, asking her to sit down or be removed, according to KATC.
Hargrave left on her own but the dispute between the teacher and the marshal became physical outside the meeting room. The middle school teacher is seen on video screaming on the ground and being handcuffed by the deputy marshal.
Hargrave was arrested by the Abbeville Police Department but Abbeville city attorney and prosecutor Ike Funderburk told KATC that after watching the video, he will not prosecute Hargrave.
The deputy marshal involved in the confrontation was sued in 2011 for excessive force when he was a police officer, court documents obtained by ABC News show. A man accused him and another officer of pushing him against a building and banging his head on a concrete slab, seriously injuring him, including breaking multiple ribs, the lawsuit states. According to the lawsuit, the man told officers they were enforcing grass maintenance rules on the wrong property. The suit was settled in 2016.
Today, the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) and Vermilion Association of Educators hosted a rally for Hargrave, where supporters donning ponchos gathered in the rain, chanting, "Stand by Deyshia."
Those at the rally were encouraged to attend upcoming school board meetings.
At the rally a letter was read from a mother in New Jersey who she said she frequently goes to school board meetings and speaks from "time to time."
"I know it's not easy to get up and advocate," the mother wrote, adding she was "devastated watching the video of Deyshia and felt compelled to write this note of support."
"Please let her know that she is a role model for other students showing how to advocate for what she believes in," the letter said.
In a Facebook video posted by Louisiana Association of Educators, Hargrave explained that she went to the meeting that night to "hear concerns or watch a vote take place about the superintendent's contract."
"My voice was silenced during audience concerns for the superintendent," she said. "By silencing my voice, they've also taken away, or tried to take away, my First Amendment right to speak. And I'm appalled at this and you should be, too."
LAE President Debbie Meaux and National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García in a joint statement called Hargrave's arrest "a chilling infringement on her rights," adding, "educators will not be silenced."
Besides support from educators, Hargrave also has support from the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, which called Hargrave’s arrest "unacceptable" and warned that it raises "serious constitutional concerns."
However, Superintendent Jerome Puyau, whose raise was being questioned by the teacher, defended the marshal's actions in an interview with KATC.
"Our people know what to do, and when it happened, that person, that marshal, acted in what we asked him to do," said Puyau.
School board president Anthony Fontana also defended the actions of the officer in an interview with KATC, comparing the action taken to a student’s being punished for unruliness.
"If a teacher has the authority to send a student, who is acting up and she can't control, out of the classroom to the principal's office, under our policy we have the same rules," Fontana said. "We have certain rules: Three-minute speech, it has to be civilized, it can't get off target, it has to be related to the issue before the board. That's not what was happening last night.
"The marshal did his job," Fontana added. "He was taking her out. He wasn't arresting her. He was escorting her out, telling her, 'Don't come back tonight.' It escalated out in the hall and she ended up getting arrested.”