So it looks like the prosecutor has declined to bring charges and a lawsuit for wrongful arrest may be forthcoming. So it’s a win. Still, mother of three, with her husband in a coma, Maegan Adkins-Barras spent the night in a Louisiana jail for posting a video on Facebook.
Not just any video but a recording of a fight at her son’s school between two male students. In the video one knocks the other down, twice, the second time, the teen’s head strikes a concrete bench. He’s fine but he and the other student were arrested.
But so too was Adkins-Barras, 32, charged by the Scott Police Department with a rarely used law. The department also splashed her photo on its Facebook page and booked her into jail without bond just after 11 a.m. on February 20, pending a court appearance at 1 p.m. on February 21. She ended up being released at 9:30 a.m. on February 21, records show.
You can see her post below, which expresses concern about the fight, in a screenshot from Facebook sent to Heavy:
The video, which is disturbing but not nearly as graphic and objectionable as many shared on platforms every day, has been scrubbed and myriad media stations have refused to show it. It’s difficult to locate a stand-alone copy, though students have probably shared it on Snapchat. Still, KLFY is one of the few that has aired it. You can see it here.
The Scott Police Department and the Lafayette Parish prosecutor have also not responded to questions. Scott Police Chief Chad Leger told the Acadiana Advocate he would not answer questions about the arrest, despite posting about it on Facebook.
“This is all stuff that’s going to be sent to the DA’s office for review,” Leger told the newspaper on February 21. “I’m not trying to be complicated, but I have five other reporters calling me. I don’t understand why. I’ve talked to our city’s legal attorney, and that’s our comments on the matter right now.”
But Adkins Barras posted to Facebook on Tuesday, Feb. 26 a thank you for support and a message that her lawyers and the prosecutor worked together and the district attorney decided not to prosecute.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Adkins-Barras Shared a Video & Went to Jail
Scott Police Chief Chad Leger told local media the boy in the fight video who struck his head is fine. The fight between two students began Tuesday morning at Acadiana High School. Kids pulled out their cameras phones. One sent it to his mom, Maegan Barras, who posted it to Facebook as apparent commentary to note what’s going on in the school. Her friends said she was concerned about what was going on at her school and was questioning the response from officials. The boys were both arrested and charged, one with second-degree battery and the one that was knocked down and hit his head on a concrete bench was charged with disturbing the peace.
And the Lafayette Parish School System will set its own discipline per schools policy. What that is now is not clear.
But the boys were not the only ones who were arrested. Police decided to charge Adkins-Barras with unlawful posting of criminal activity for notoriety and publicity. That statute, passed in 2008 and updated in 2011, requires the person doing the posting to be involved in the criminal activity, which Adkins Barras would arguably be deemed to not be involved. Her son took the video and sent it to her. And he was likely not the only person to film the melee.
Adkins-Barras was arrested by a school resource officer after he learned that the video had been posted online, according to police. She was arrested even though she deleted the video from Facebook.
State Senator Fred Mills told The Advocate, “”It looks like in this situation, there was some misinterpretation of the law. The intent of the bill wasn’t for innocent people to be arrested for something they didn’t do.”
2. Adkins-Barras Faces a $500 Fine & 6 Months in Jail
Scott Police took to Facebook to announce the arrest of Adkins-Barras. (The account has its privacy settings adjusted so the post could not be embedded or shared. What follows are screenshots taken by Heavy.)
“A third arrest has been made in the incident concerning two juveniles fighting at Acadiana High School.
During their investigation of the incident, Scott Police Department’s School Resource Officers found that Maegan Adkins-Barras, 32, of Broussard, obtained a video of the fight that occurred on the campus of Acadiana High School on Tuesday, February 19th from her juvenile son’s cell phone. Adkins-Barras admitted that once she received the video from her son, she then posted the video to social media where it was shared repeatedly.
A physical altercation between two juveniles in the Commons Area of Acadiana High School was reported to the School Resource Officers and school administration on Tuesday, February 19th. During the altercation, one of the juveniles threw a punch causing the other juvenile to fall and strike his head on one of the concrete benches in the area before falling to the ground. The juvenile was transported to a local medical facility where he was treated. One juvenile is being charged with Second Degree Battery while the other is charged with Disturbing the Peace by Fighting.
Adkins-Barras was placed under arrest and transported to Lafayette Parish Correctional Center where she was booked for Unlawful Posting of Criminal Activity for Notoriety and Publicity. No bond has been set at this time.”
And the police posted this photo on its Facebook page.
“Parents who receive information concerning criminal activity on school campuses are urged to contact their local police department or school administration. Posting videos and photos of illegal activity on social media is against the law in the State of Louisiana,” police wrote. “Violators of the law could be fined not more than five hundred dollars or imprisoned for not more than six months, or both.”
Chief Chad Leger didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about why Adkins-Barras was charged and whether any details about the case that led to her arrest were left out of the press release.
3. Local Attorneys Criticized the Arrest, Saying It ‘Smells of Desperation’
The Acadiana Advocate reported the law she police claim Maegan Adkins-Barras broke appears to apply only to “a person who is either a principal or accessory to a crime.”
It quoted criminal defense lawyer and Louisiana State University Law School instructor Franz Borghardt as saying he’d never heard of the law before now.
“The police are going to have some hurdles,” said Borghardt, who is not representing Adkins-Barras. “They’re going to have to either establish that she was a principal or accessory to the fight, and that means they’re going to have to establish that she was there and somehow started or encouraged the fight.
“But more so, they’ll have to establish that she posted it to social media to establish notoriety or publicity,” he said. “Just because you post something on social media doesn’t mean you’re looking for that. You can share ideas and thoughts. I think they’ll have a serious constitutional problem with this crime. I think it just smells of desperation in the sense that they’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.”
Attorney Scott Sternberg, who handles First Amendment and media cases, told The Advocate, “She obtained the video lawfully. “This is something we do all the time for the media. If we obtained this video, there’s a good chance we would post it. That concerns me. This sets up an extremely difficult precedent that somebody could be arrested for posting a video they lawfully obtained.”
He added, I’m 100 percent sure that the idea behind this law was not to present a First Amendment problem,” he said. “It was to deter criminal activity. I don’t see how arresting someone who wasn’t a principal or accessory to a crime deters. It’s extremely suspect.”
Criminal defense lawyer Kirk Piccione told the newspaper, “The Scott Police Department could have liability for making a false arrest. The courts give a lot of leeway to police making arrests, but at some point, you get to the stage where there is simply no support, no probable cause, no reasonable person could agree that probable cause existed — unless there is evidence that she is a principal or an accessory.”
Police Chief Chad Leger told The Advocate he isn’t concerned about a lawsuit.
“Anybody can sue anybody for anything these days,” Leger told the newspaper on Thursday. “Is it something that concerns me? No. Is it something that can happen? Yes.”
Bruce Hamilton, an attorney for the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, told Nola.com he doesn’t think the law would apply to Barras. He also said the law itself could be challenged.
“If the crime is the fight in the school, she was not a principal to that fight and she wasn’t an accessory,” Hamilton told Nola.com. “It’s also very suspect to say that she posted it for the purpose of notoriety, publicity or the attention of the public.”
The ACLU attorney told Nola.com that he couldn’t find any previous cases involving the law that resulted in convictions. “Hamilton said the law itself appears ripe for challenges for infringement of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. He also said some of the language in the statute is vague about what types of video might be illegal to post,” the newspaper wrote.
The county prosecutor’s office will make a final decision about charges. According to The Advocate, authorities have suggested another charge could be applied, saying that Barras possibly violated a law that makes it illegal to share images of juveniles without parental consent, but the newspaper said no such law could be found. A source in the district attorney’s office added “additional charges may follow.”
One charge found by Borghardt is for “unlawful possession of videotape of protected persons,” another rarely used law that lists protected persons as “any person who is a victim of a crime” or a “witness in a criminal proceeding” who is “under the age of 17 years.” The law says it is illegal to “knowingly and intentionally” possess or distribute videos of protected persons.
Borghardt told the newspaper, “I think someone realized, ‘Oops, what Scott police arrested her for doesn’t fit the facts of the incident,’ and now they have to justify the arrest by using another obscure and seldomly used law. You’re going to have the same constitutional issues as before. I still say this all smells funny.”
No charges had been filed as of February 25.
“I have not received a report from the law enforcement involved,” District Attorney Keith Stutes told the newspaper. “And until that report is viewed, I cannot and will not have any comments.”
4. Adkins-Barras’ Husband Joshua Recently Suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury & the Cost of the Treatment he Needs to Recover Isn’t Covered by Insurance
Adkins-Barras created a GoFundMe to help her pay for the treatment her husband Joshua requires following a traumatic brain injury last November. With her husband in a care facility, and her for all intents and purposes operating as a single mother, she needs help.
“Josh’s life forever changed November 2nd 2018 leaving him with an anoxic brain injury. The hospital released him after 4 weeks where there (saying there was) no more THEY can do. He was placed in a nursing home. With a trach and a peg needing 24hr care in his every day living.
He needs Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy where a patient is placed in an enclosed chamber where the atmosphere is controlled and the patient is able to breathe pure 100 percent oxygen which science says can “restore a significant amount of neurological function in brain tissue thought to be chronically damaged.”
She wrote, “anoxic brain injury is a type of brain injury that isn’t usually caused by a blow to the head. Instead, anoxic brain injury occurs when the brain is deprived of oxygen. Left without oxygen for too long, neural cells begin to die through a process called apoptosis. And though cell death is a normal part of the human experience, when a large number of brain cells simultaneously die, one can be left with diminished brain function. Anything and everything, donations or shares, are all greatly appreciated. Josh was given another chance in life.”
5. On the Police Facebook Post, Dozens of People Have Called the Arrest Absurd at Best, Unconstitutional at Worst
The general consensus is the Scott Police Department has misapplied the law. And Adkins Barras would be well-served to have a lawyer.
“I am generally anti-over sharing on social media and very pro-police, but the police are justifying this arrest & overnight stay in jail by stating ‘Parents who receive information concerning criminal activity on school campuses are urged to contact their local police department or school administration. Posting videos and photos of illegal activity on social media is against the law in the State of Louisiana,” which the law does not support.
“Either you have evidence that this mom was an accessory to the crime actually recorded in the video she posted and just worded your own Facebook post explaining the law very poorly (and should be corrected) or you are overlooking a key component of this law for some as of now unknown reason which at this point should result in those at fault being terminated at the very least. If law misapplied you still have time to let this mom sleep in her bed and with the rest of her family tonight. People who Overshare and/or post something someone people feels is distasteful on social media should be blocked, unfollowed, or even shamed by others who need to feel better about themselves not arrested by the police.”
Even police officers commented on the Scott Police Facebook statement and photograph of Adkins Barras.
Attorney Greg Doucette, a North Carolina criminal defense attorney who has gained a following on Twitter and on his podcast, Fsckemall, by talking about national legal matters, reacted to the arrest by tweeting, “Holy sh*t. … The statute is definitely unconstitutional IMO. Would make it illegal to film protests if it were enforceable.” Doucette added that because she does not appear to have been a principal or accessory, “she’d be entitled to an acquittal just because the statute doesn’t fit. But it’s also wildly overbroad as written.”
Another Twitter legal mind, @Popehat, tweeted, “The statute sounds like it’s of dubious constitutionality.”
The law, “2011 Louisiana Laws Revised Statutes TITLE 14 — Criminal law RS 14:107.4 — Unlawful posting of criminal activity for notoriety and publicity.” The law states:
§107.4. Unlawful posting of criminal activity for notoriety and publicity
A. It shall be unlawful for a person who is either a principal or accessory to a crime to obtain an image of the commission of the crime using any camera, videotape, photo-optical, photo-electric, or any other image recording device and to transfer that image obtained during the commission of the crime by the use of a computer online service, Internet service, or any other means of electronic communication, including but not limited to a local bulletin board service, Internet chat room, electronic mail, or online messaging service for the purpose of gaining notoriety, publicity, or the attention of the public.
B. Whoever violates the provisions of this Section shall be fined not more than five hundred dollars or imprisoned for not more than six months, or both.
C. The provisions of this Section shall not apply to any of the following:
(1) The obtaining, use, or transference of such images by a telephone company, cable television company, or any of its affiliates, an Internet provider, or commercial online service provider, or to the carrying, broadcasting, or performing of related activities in providing telephone, cable television, Internet, or commercial online services or in the production, exhibition, or presentation of an audiovisual work in any medium, including but not limited to a motion picture or television program.
(2) The obtaining, use, or transference of images by a law enforcement officer pursuant to investigation of criminal activity.
(3) The obtaining, use, or transference of images by any bona fide member of the news media broadcasting a news report through television, cable television, or other telecommunication.
(4) The obtaining, use, or transference of images for use in a feature-length film, short subject film, video, television series, television program, public service announcement, or commercial.
D. After the institution of prosecution, access to, and the disposition of any material seized as evidence of this offense shall be in accordance with R.S. 46:1845.
E. Any evidence resulting from the commission of unlawful filming or recording criminal activity shall be contraband.
Acts 2008, No. 660, §1.
According to the Louisiana State Legislature’s website, the bill was first introduced in 2008 by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. It was passed unanimously in both the state house and senate before being signed into law by then-Governor Bobby Jindal. The law provides an exemption for internet service providers, law enforcement and the news media. But it does not define what “news media” is.
Rep. Barbara Norton, a Democrat, introduced the bill. According to video of the House debate in May 2008, Norton said there was a “recent trend” in the U.S. where someone would commit a crime and then post it on the internet to “gain notoriety” and “reputation.”
Norton, when asked why someone would want to put a video of a crime on the internet, said, “In the world that we live in today there are many, many things that are going on with our young people. … When I look at the internet and I see young people taking the opportunity to gather against one person and how they commit battery by beating this person and at the same time you look on TV and the internet and you see their pictures throughout the country and their pictures in the newspaper all over TV.”
Norton said people were “becoming famous” by posting videos of crimes.