|School board member Tehmi Chassion gets advice from his older brother, City-Parish Councilman Brandon Shelvin, after being approached by an IND reporter Wednesday night about his 2001 arrest for attempted monetary instrument abuse. Former ADA-turned-convicted-felon J. Floyd Johnson declined to prosecute Chassion in 2006.|
To keep certain skeletons - a felony arrest for example - safely hidden from the public eye, some politicians will take desperate measures, which is just what Lafayette Parish School Board member Tehmi Chassion did during Wednesday's board meeting.
That desperate measure was taken last night, even as community and business leaders continued to plead with the board - namely Chassion, Rae Trahan, Tommy Angelle, Greg Awbrey and Mark Allen Babineaux - to set aside their petty differences with Superintendent Dr. Pat Cooper, drop the effort to reprimand him for hiring Thad Welch, and allow him to do what he was hired to do: turn around a mediocre school district.
The meeting was an opportunity for The IND to attempt to discuss with Chassion information that recently came to our attention: his 2001 arrest on two counts of attempted monetary instrument abuse, or attempting to use the same counterfeit $20 bill at two local businesses. Chassion, who was 20 years old at the time, allegedly used a counterfeit $20 bill to try to purchase merchandise at not just one but two local businesses: Janine's Cameron Boudin House and Subway. "The twenty dollar bill used by Defendant was counterfeited by scanning a twenty dollar bill into a computer then printing it," the report reads.
Tehmi Chassion has not returned the The IND's phone calls for months. So when he stepped outside the board meeting room and entered the men's restroom at about 8:50 p.m. this reporter, after initiating a voice memo recording on his iPhone at approximately 8:58 p.m., followed suit. This reporter entered the men's room to find Chassion washing his hands and having a conversation with the husband of Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau.
While the men's room may not be the ideal place for an interview, it did afford Chaisson the opportunity to address the issue out of earshot of the crowds gathered not only in the meeting room but also in the lobby and halls outside of the room.
"It'll be real quick; you don't answer my calls, but I gotta ask you something important," this reporter said to Chassion, introducing himself and shaking the school board member's hand after waiting about a minute for his previous chat to end.
According to the voice memo recording, the conversation, which lasted under 30 seconds, proceeded as follows:
Chassion: Actually, I got a school board meeting to attend right now.
The IND: Let me show you this right here (pulls arrest affidavit from jacket pocket). You don't wanna comment on it?
Chassion: I'm good. I got a school board meeting to attend right now.
The IND: It was a felony arrest. You don't wanna comment on it?
Upon exiting the restroom, Chassion immediately located his brother Tony Chassion. Here's what they said, according to the audio recording:
Tehmi Chassion: This guy just approached me in the bathroom and asked if I had been arrested.
Tony Chassion: The bathroom; dude.
|City-Parish Councilman Brandon Shelvin, left, with, from right, brothers Tehmi Chassion and Tony Chassion, and former City-Parish Councilman Chris Williams. Tony, Brandon and Chris Williams appeared at the school board offices after an IND reporter questioned Tehmi about his 2001 arrest.|
Though the recording from this point on is difficult to understand, this reporter heard Tony Chassion tell his brother to call the police. That's not the only call Tehmi made, as he stayed out of the meeting and was busy placing calls on his cell phone. Within minutes, another brother, City-Parish Councilman Brandon Shelvin, had arrived. And, like clockwork, so did former City-Parish Councilman Chris Williams.
From here, Tehmi's story quickly evolved. Once officers from the Lafayette Police Department arrived, that story had gone from "this guy just approached me in the bathroom" to allegations that his shirt was grabbed and he was pushed by this reporter. The only contact ever made was the original handshake.
The intial incident report from the Lafayette Police Department indicates that Tehmi claims this reporter "placed a hand on his chest and grabbed at his shirt tail to keep him in the bathroom and answer his questions."
The report states that the suspect and witness "both advised this incident did not happen." In other words, the only witness to the interview attempt did not corroborate Tehmi's story.
Police took statements and will send the report to the district attorney's office for review.
In an even stranger development after last night's meeting, in which Tehmi, Trahan, Angelle, Awbrey and Hunter Beasley voted to reprimand the superintendent over the hiring of Welch, Tehmi went on a rant that repeatedly questioned Dr. Cooper's truthfulness.
Of course few in the audience knew at that late hour of the night that the now 32-year-old school board member had just fabricated a tall tale of his own to divert attention from the real issue: his 2001 arrest.
According to information The IND obtained from the District Attorney's Office, it appears as though additional local businesses came forward with complaints against Chaisson after he was arrested. There were three alleged victims related to the 2001 arrest, according to the DA's records.
It is unclear if these are three additional places of business, as the DA's office would not release the names of those alleged victims. The DA's records show that Chaisson faced three counts of forgery stemming from three different complaints. The charges, according to the DA's records, were refused in 2006 by none other than former ADA-turned-convicted-felon J. Floyd Johnson.
The IND could find no record of the case in the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court's Office, an indication it was likely expunged from Chassion's record. Read more on Tehmi's more recent behavior outside of his school board duties here.
The bottom line in this drama-filled night is that Tehmi Chassion has yet to address what happened in 2001. Perhaps another member of the local media will have an opportunity to ask him in a place he feels is appropriate to discuss such matters.