A little bit over a week into the new year, a disturbing video emerged from a Vermilion Parish High School Board meeting in Abbeville, Louisiana. The video showed a city marshal in Abbeville using what seemed like unreasonable force to arrest a school teacher at the school board meeting. What had the teacher done that was so terrible to require her to be roughly arrested by a man easily twice her size? She asked the wrong questions at the meeting.
This isn’t the first time that the city marshal, a man named Reggie Hilts, has been accused of using excessive force to arrest an individual. When Reggie Hilts was a police officer in Scott, he was accused in a federal lawsuit of committing a similar offense.
In 2011, Reggie allegedly slammed an elderly man’s head into a concrete slab during an arrest. The ailing 62-year-old man was, according to police, ‘uncooperative and resisting arrest,’ and was just generally unhappy that the city had dispatched crews to cut the lawn on his property. According to the officers, slamming the 62-year-old man’s head into the concrete was not at all excessive, and all officers involved in the altercation felt that they acted fairly.
Reggie left his position with Scott before the charges were filed in 2012, and according to the chief of police, he left for reasons unrelated to the incident. The case was settled by the police department in 2016 (for an undisclosed sum), and now Reggie Hilts works as a school resource officer in the Vermilion Parish’s middle school.
On that fateful day in early January 2018, Reggie Hilts decided that force was needed to subdue a school teacher in the Vermilion Parish school system. Teacher Deyshia Hargrave’s crime? She dared to ask the school board why they voted to increase the pay of school Superintendent Jerome Puyau by $30,000 a year when teachers had not seen a pay raise in a decade.
Deyshia Hargrave stood up after raising her hand, asking why it was that Puyau was getting this pay increase when she hadn’t seen one in a decade. Eventually, a uniformed officer (Reggie Hilts) appeared and escorted Deyshia from the meeting.
As Reggie led Deyshia out of the meeting, it seemed ‘order’ was restored, at least temporarily. Then a woman cried out that they were “putting [Deyshia] in handcuffs.” This woman was correct: Reggie Hilts was wrestling with Deyshia and putting her in handcuffs.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards who is a lawyer, a West Point graduate, and a former infantry officer in the 82nd Airborne, said that he saw nothing in Hargrave’s conduct that precipitated Hilts’ response of taking her to the ground and placing her in handcuffs. Further, there is nothing in the video above that should be the basis for her removal from the school board meeting.
Superintendent Puyau and other members of the school board have said that since Hargrave was ejected from the meeting, they have received insulting emails and phone calls as well as death threats. He also says that his daughters have received threatening and insulting messages on social media which they have had to delete.
Just as disturbing as the treatment of Hargrave, however, is the reason behind it. Hargrave was not being disrespectful, violent, or awful in any way to the assembled school board. All it took, however, was for Vermilion Parish School Board President Anthony Fontana to motion to Reggie Hilts, and Reggie came to tell her she had to leave. When she didn’t leave ‘properly’ to his liking, he put her on the ground and put her in handcuffs.
Superintendent Puyau expressed his displeasure with how the situation played out, but the damage is already done. Fontana, who decided that he should eject Hargrave with little or no reason, has not responded to media requests to comment and most likely won’t.
As for Hilts, Puyau said that he is a great school resource officer, going so far as to say that he’s a “very good guy, he’s a pastor, respectable citizen here, and is well-respected in the community,” adding that “students and teachers love him.”
However, Hilts’ actions on that video are not the actions of a good police officer. They’re the actions of a police officer who has a serious problem with using excessive force and doing so at inappropriate times. Now the entire country knows who he is, and most of the country, including many law enforcement experts agree that his actions were out of line.
Hopefully, the Vermilion Parish school system removes both Hilts and Fontana from their jobs. A board member who would use force to quiet dissent has no place on the board, and a police officer who would handcuff a teacher walking out of a meeting has no place wearing a badge.