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Published: Thursday, March 08, 2018 @ 9:10 PM
Updated: Thursday, March 08, 2018 @ 9:09 PM
KAPLAN, La. — Louisiana's attorney general sued a local school board Thursday over a meeting disrupted by the video-recorded arrest of a teacher being roughly handcuffed on a hallway floor after she criticized the district superintendent's pay raise.
Attorney General Jeff Landry's lawsuit accuses the Vermilion Parish School Board and its members of violating the state's Open Meetings Law by stifling public debate at the Jan. 8 meeting.
Middle school English teacher Deyshia Hargrave, whose arrest sparked outrage after video of it spread online, 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 happen and that all this happened for nothing — and something has happened," Hargrave told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday outside the Kaplan school where she works.
The suit asks a state court to nullify all actions taken by the board during that meeting, including its vote to raise Schools Superintendent Jerome Puyau's salary by roughly $30,000.
It also seeks civil penalties against any board members found responsible for violating the Open Meetings Law and says the school system should be reimbursed for any extra money the superintendent received under his raise.
"Every community has a stake in the performance and the governance of its public schools, and the community's views and thoughts should be taken into account before any action or discussion on an agenda item occurs," the suit says.
Hargrave has said the incident violated her First Amendment right to free speech.
"It's been proven that there is a law that was broken, or they're going to at least look into it. And that's the very least that should be happening at this point," she said Thursday.
Landry's suit says the school board conducted the meeting "in an atmosphere that was hostile toward and contemptuous of" parish residents who attended it.
Video of the meeting shows Hargrave addressed the superintendent directly, asking him how he could accept a raise when teachers haven't received a pay increase in 10 years.
Anthony Fontana, the school board's president at the time, then banged his gavel, told her to stop and said her comment wasn't "germane" to the vote on the contract. Hargrave countered that she was directly addressing the matter.
At that point, according to school board member Kibbie Pillette, Fontana beckoned Deputy City Marshal Reggie Hilts, 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 a camera recorded her on the floor with her hands behind her back as the officer handcuffed her.
"Stop resisting," the officer said, lifting Hargrave to her feet.
"I am not. You just pushed me to the floor," Hargrave said.
Hargrave was arrested on charges of "remaining after being forbidden" and resisting an officer. Ike Funderburk, the prosecutor and city attorney in Abbeville, decided in January not to pursue any criminal charges against her.
The teacher told the AP in January that she blamed Fontana for the incident.
Fontana, who served six terms on the board, announced his resignation less than two weeks after the Jan. 8 meeting. He had announced last year that he wouldn't run for re-election.
The board voted 5-3 to approve a new three-year contract raising Puyau's salary to about $140,000 annually, with incentive targets that could add 3 percent a year. Puyau has said the raise matches what school officials in similar jobs make.
Puyau, who also is named as a defendant in Landry's lawsuit, said he couldn't comment on its allegations because of an ongoing Louisiana State Police investigation of the incident.
Pillette, who voted against the superintendent's pay raise, said he applauds Landry for filing the suit even though it names him as one of the defendants.
"It's about time somebody gives us some help," he said. "We have sent (Landry's office) tons of information about the wrongdoings of the Vermilion Parish School Board."
Several other board members either declined to comment or didn't immediately respond to emails seeking comment on the suit.
The superintendent has said he began receiving hate mail and threatening phone calls as the video spread on the internet. He told the AP in January that he wasn't happy with how things played out.
"It was not good in any way," Puyau 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."
Vermilion Parish is about 150 miles (240 kilometers) west of New Orleans.
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 6:37 PM
Washington — National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster is resigning from the Trump administration and will be replaced by former U.S. ambassador John Bolton, according to a tweet Thursday afternoon from President Donald Trump.
>> Read more trending news/ Who is H.R. McMaster, Trump's national security advisor/
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 8:40 PM
Just over 24 hours after GOP leaders unveiled the details of massive plan to fund the federal government, the House and Senate gave easy bipartisan approval to the $1.3 trillion spending measure, even as members in both parties grumbled about the actions of their leaders, the process, the size of the bill, the amount of money involved, and the specifics.
The final Senate vote – which took place soon after midnight – was 65 to 32 in favor of the over 2,000 page bill, which no lawmaker claimed to have read from start to finish.
“Washington has reached a new low,” complained Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), who ridiculed the increase in spending agreed to by both parties.
“This is beyond pathetic. It is irresponsible, and a danger to our Republic,” Perdue added.
“Our congressional budget process is badly broken, and this Omnibus bill is just another symptom of Washington’s sickness,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK).
Among the many items in the final bill:
+ A big boost in defense spending, giving the Pentagon $700 billion in 2018, an increase of over $60 billion.
+ A substantial increase in domestic spending, highlighted by money for infrastructure, medical research and more.
+ Two bills pressed in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida school shooting – the “Fix NICS” bill that would funnel more information into the instant background check system for gun buyers, and the “STOP School Violence Act,” which would help schools better recognize possible threats of violence in the future.
A rush to a final vote in the Senate was first delayed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who spent hours going through the bill, tweeting out what he found – but after about 600 of the 2,232 pages, the Kentucky Republican called it quits.
“I will vote no because it spends too much and there’s just too little time to read the bill and let everyone know what’s actually in it,” Paul tweeted.
“Every Republican would vote against this disgusting pork bill if a Democrat were President,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE). “This spending kegger is a wildly irresponsible use of the taxpayers’ money.”
At the White House, officials acknowledged that if the GOP had 60 votes in the Senate to stop a filibuster, they would have designed a much different bill to the fund the operations of the federal government through the end of September.
But they still argued the measure funded a number of the President’s priorities.
“It funds national defense,” said White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney. “It funds opioids, it funds school safety.”
Earlier on Thursday, the House approved the bill on a vote of 256-167, as the two parties switched arguments from several years ago – when it was Republicans complaining about Democrats bringing a big bill to the floor with little time for review.
This time, it was Democrats echoing the Tea Party line of, “Read the bill!”
When the bill reached the Senate, Senators were ready to quickly approve the plan, and head out of town on a two-week break for Easter.
But the fine print caused some troubles, as Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), reportedly objected to a provision put in the bill that would rename a park in his state after a former Governor, Cecil Andrus, described in home state press reports as a past rival.
In the hallways off the Senate floor, Risch was not interested in discussing the Idaho dust up with reporters.
The hours of waiting, which included a procedural vote that called on the Sergeant At Arms to request the presence of absent Senators – left one short-timer aggravated.
“This is juvenile,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who is not running for re-election this year.
“This is a ridiculous process that we go through where people extort us, until we get so tired, that we are willing to do whatever it is that they wish for us to do,” said Corker just before the clock struck midnight.
Corker said it would have been better to come back at 8 am and vote, but he backed off that threat, and allowed Senators to finish work on the Omnibus, which funds the government only through September 30.
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 11:01 PM
AUSTIN, Texas — A bomb found at a FedEx facility in Southeast Austin on Tuesday morning was addressed to an employee at Austin Med Spa, according to spa workers and the employee’s mother.
Anita Ward, a nurse at Austin Med Spa, said FBI agents and Austin police told her Tuesday morning that her daughter, who also works at the spa in downtown Austin, was to be the recipient of the unexploded bomb at a FedEx sorting facility at 4117 McKinney Falls Parkway near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
Ward, who did not want to give her daughter’s name, said her daughter does not know Mark Conditt, who police say terrorized Austin with a series of bomb attacks that left two people dead and five injured.
Anita Ward said Conditt also did not look familiar to anyone who works at the spa.
“We’ve been trying to just keep it in the down low just for the FBI and police,” Ward said. “All of us here are just very thankful for the FBI and police and the work they’ve been doing.”
“I got to see a little bit of the inside of (the investigative process) and they were very quick at checking and stopping this package, and so we completely 100 percent credit this to them for stopping this from being delivered to our office,” she said.
Ward’s daughter attends Austin Community College, but did not attend the school from 2010 to 2012, when Conditt was pursuing a business administration degree but did not graduate.
“They’re still investigating, we’re still providing them information,” Ward said. “We pretty much know as much as (authorities) can release to us. We still have a lot of unanswered questions.”
For now, Ward said she and her daughter are scared but thankful for the work of the FBI and Austin police. “We’ve both been very actively concerned and involved with this, her being targeted.”
Police said the unexploded package at the FedEx facility in Southeast Austin was one of two sent from a Sunset Valley FedEx Office store. Authorities determined it was a bomb and detonated in a controlled manner, they said.
The first three victims, all in East Austin, were two black men who were killed in the attacks and a Hispanic woman. Two white men were injured on Sunday when they accidentally triggered a trip wire attached to a bomb in Southwest Austin. Ward and her daughter are white.
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 9:48 AM
BOSTON — Shoppers looking for a bargain lined up at Toys R Us stores across the country to cash in on the liquidation sale that was expected to begin Thursday.
However, the sales have been postponed, according to multiple reports.
WYFF reported that a sign on the Greenville location stated that the liquidation sale was postponed until further notice.
The sales are now expected to start Friday, CNN Money reported.
But no matter when the sales start, experts told CNN Money that bargain hunters should be ready to go as soon as the sales begin.
Toys R Us announced last week it was closing or selling all of its stores in the United States, but shoppers need to act fast.
MORE: Toys R Us store locator
Industry experts say shelves will clear out quickly and the sale may only last about 30 days.
Inventory on the most popular toys are already slim, and whatever is left will be the first to go.
People with Toys R Us gift cards and Endless Earnings Gift Cards should use those first.
Toys R Us will not accept them after April 20.
Starting Thursday, stores will not be accepting coupons or rewards.
If you have a return, Toys R Us will accept items for the next 30 days, but anything purchased during the liquidation sale is final and cannot be returned.
Amazon, one of Toys R Us’ most fierce competitors, is apparently considering buying up some of the empty store fronts once Toys R Us officially closes.
The Seattle-based company recently bought Whole Foods and opened its own line of bookstores and convenience stores.
Toys R Us is closing 735 locations, and will lay off about 31,000 employees.
Before you shop, check your location. Some local stores were part of the initial closing announcement and have been liquidating for weeks.