The city prosecutor has released the case file for Lafayette Parish School Board member Tehmi Chassion’s simple battery complaint against Superintendent Pat Cooper, and the witness statements given to police illustrate two very different scenarios.
The file, which was released Wednesday morning by city prosecutor Gary Haynes, includes witness statements from Cooper and Chassion, as well as LPSS Risk Management Director Ramona Bernard, the board’s former legal counsel Assistant District Attorney Roger Hamilton and three additional board members — Shelton Cobb, Hunter Beasley and Rae Trahan.
While all seven statements detail the same event — an alleged altercation between Cooper and Chassion during a closed-door executive session on Feb. 5 — an examination of each witness account shows the emergence of two diverging story lines.
Starting with the statement from Chassion, the board member writes:
While in executive session, after repeated requests to Mona Bernard by myself asking for an email concerning improper dismissal of employees hired with board approval and dismissed without board approval, Dr. Cooper tells Mona Bernard after she ask [sic] him should she go to get the email right now that it can wait till tomorrow.
I politely ask [sic] Ms. Bernard that I would like to see the information tonight. Dr. Cooper gets up and yells in my ear that she is his employee and I can’t tell her anything. I politely say that I am asking kindly in front of every board member for information needed and I am using ‘ma’am’ [sic] being very respectful.
Dr. Cooper then leans over into my face and grabs my arm and pulls me in his direction causing my chair to spin in his direction away from Mona Bernard’s direction and continues squeezing my arm as he yells and spits in my face as he states she is his employee and will get it tomorrow.
I then ask Mr. Hamilton if he witnessed what happened, he did not respond. I re-asked him and he again refrained from saying anything. I then asked every board member if they witnessed the event and half said yes they did, the other half remained quiet.
Hamilton did in fact witness the event, but unlike Chassion’s version of events, the board’s former legal counsel described the altercation much differently, writing:
While in executive session, Dr. Cooper touched Tehmi Chassion during a conversation between Tehmi Chassion and Ramona Bernard. Dr. Cooper placed a couple of fingers on Tehmi Chassion. Tehmi Chassion was sitting to my left. Dr. Cooper was off to the side.
Similar statements came from Bernard and board member Shelton Cobb. According to Cobb, here’s what went down:
During discussion in which Mr. Chassion was requesting info from a system employee, the superintendent indicate [sic] to Mr. Chassion that information being requested should more properly be requested from the [superintendent].
The [superintendent] touched Mr. Chassion inadvertently while talking to him.
Despite Chassion's claim of remaining polite throughout the ordeal, Bernard had a different take:
During the discussion, Dr. Tehmi Chassion became very agitated and was shouting. He asked me if I could produce a particular document for him, and I answered, ‘Sure.’ He then began to demand that the document be produced immediately. Dr. Pat Cooper, Superintendent, said we will produce it tomorrow.
Dr. Chassion began shouting that I said I could get it for him. Dr. Hunter Beasley, President of the Board, was conducting the meeting, and he very calmly told Dr. Chassion that he had the right to request information from the superintendent, and the Supt. would secure it from the staff and give it to him.
Dr. Chassion started shouting again, and Dr. Cooper started shouting that I worked for Dr. Cooper, and Dr. Chassion was not listening, so Dr. Cooper stood, leaned over, and put his hand on Dr. Chassion’s right arm to get his attention. Dr. Cooper was leaning and shouting close to Dr. Chassion. Dr. Chassion was also shouting. At some point Dr. Cooper stood and walked out. Dr. Chassion continued to yell, ‘Did you see him put his hands on me?’ He ranted and cursed, then started dialing his phone.
And according to Cooper:
I was sitting behind Mr. Chassion. As his voice got louder and more belligerent toward Ms. Bernard (my employee), I stood up and touched him on the arm to get his attention while stating to him that she wasn’t his employee, stop talking to her that way, and that if he wanted something he needed to go through me, the superintendent and her boss.
He screamed he was tired of me putting my hands on him and that something needed to be done. I simply said I touched him to get his attention so he would stop ordering my employee around and screaming at her. I then walked out ...
While the statements from Cooper, Bernard, Cobb and Hamilton all tell a much different story from the one given by Chassion, he at least got corroboration from board member Rae Trahan, though that shouldn’t be too surprising given the disdain she’s held for the superintendent since day one of his arrival in Lafayette.
Here’s how Trahan described the events of Feb. 5:
While discussing legal action to be taken, Dr. Cooper became angry with Dr. Chassion. He began shouting at him and pulled on his arm on two separate occasions. Dr. Chassion asked him politely to let him go and to not lay hands on him again. Dr. Cooper came around the table, laughed @ him (Dr. Chassion) made a snide comment and walked out of the room.
A more neutral take on the incident came from board president Hunter Beasley:
Dr. Chaisson [sic] was asking questions of a staff member, Mona Bernard. Staff member would not provide direct answer. Dr. Chassion kept asking questions. Dr. Cooper eventually got up and said to Dr. Chassion to ask him the questions. Dr. Chaisson [sic] continued to question staff member. Dr. Cooper stood up and grabbed Dr. Chaisson [sic] on the arm. Dr. Chaisson [sic] turned slightly. Dr. Cooper left the room. The people in the room left to go back to the board meeting room.
So, what do we take away from this story other than an already-held understanding that some board members like the superintendent and others don’t?
For one, Chassion’s actions proved a big waste of time not only for those attending the school board’s Feb. 5 meeting, but also for the Lafayette Police Department, which had to stop patrolling the city and head over to the school system offices to conduct an investigation into his allegations, as well as the time taken by the city prosecutor’s office to review the case and decide whether prosecution was worth pursuing. It wasn’t.
Click here to read more on this story.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council will consider on Tuesday a revised plan to the transform a block in Downtown Lafayette into a mixed-use residential-retail-commercial development that doesn’t include giving title to the property to the Lafayette Public Trust Finance Authority, an arrangement the council rejected earlier this month.
Trying to combat the national undertones of Louisiana's U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu is traveling the state this week on a sort of pork celebration tour, telling voters about the projects and aid she's delivered to Louisiana.
Ever thought that big, pink Gulf coast shrimp you ordered at the restaurant or bought from the store didn't taste juicy or salty enough? Maybe it wasn't from the Gulf.
The state treasurer won't sign financial documents needed for $200 million in borrowing or for a refinancing of existing debt until he believes they accurately explain the surplus disagreement.
Bill Cassidy voted for 97 percent of the bills signed by Barack Obama.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is joining South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on her campaign bus tour.
A New Iberia man has been sentenced to life in prison for killing a 4-year-old girl and scalding her 3-year-old brother.
A district judge decided Wednesday against sanctioning attorney/school board candidate Dawn Morris for her behind-the-scenes role in a lawsuit against Mark Cockerham.
Secretary of State Tom Schedler says Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration may have improperly destroyed records in the state employee health insurance program, in the middle of a heavily-criticized rewrite of benefit plans.
San Fran wins the World Series; Sistine Chapel improvements; Kurds moving toward Syria and more national and international news for Thursday, October 30, 2014.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
Paper cites the former ADA's "experience as a prosecutor, his demonstrated integrity, and his ideas for reshaping the [DA's] office" in urging voters to support Keith Stutes Nov. 4.
Louisiana officials have sent a letter to the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene un-inviting members of the group who have recently been to ebola-affected West African countries from attending the group’s annual conference in New Orleans next week.
Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints have to find a way to win on the road if they plan to take over first place in the NFC South.
"It is obvious that Louisiana economic performance has not outperformed the South or the United States as a whole and, in fact, has substantially underperformed..."
A state district judge said he will rule Friday on a preliminary injunction to keep some charter schools from receiving $60 million through Louisiana's public school financing formula.
Saints fans were to gather, make merry, eat/drink compliments of a new Downtown group and watch the Saints beat Carolina and claim 1st place in the NFC South. But...
New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram doesn't see his dramatic spike in production as any sort of validation.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is facing off one last time with her two main Republican challengers before next week's election.
He’s pulling for Knezek and Hidalgo on his end of the parish but issued endorsements in three other districts as well.
Off a narrow gravel road running between a handful of mostly abandoned lots near a Mississippi River levee, down past sprawling oak trees and thick weeds, a lectern framed by banana trees has been set up in front of three short rows of folding chairs.
Hillary Rodham Clinton is heading to New Orleans this weekend to stir up voter support for Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Saints coach Sean Payton has spent much of his team's erratic season trying to build his players up.
The Daily Advertiser has weighed in on this year's LPSB elections with nine endorsements.