Attorneys weigh in after teacher found not guilty of cruelty to juvenile

ST. FRANCISVILLE, LA (WAFB) - A first grade teacher accused of kicking and slapping a student in St. Francisville in 2015 has been found not guilty.

Chanel M. Lemelle resigned her position at Bains Lower Elementary School after being arrested on one felony count of cruelty to a juvenile. She is now a teacher in East Baton Rouge Parish.

Judge William Carmichael presided over the bench trial in West Feliciana Parish and delivered his verdict last Friday.

Lemelle is the daughter of J.S. "Stan" Lemelle, a retired federal prosecutor who once served as interim U.S. attorney. She was initially represented by her father's law partner, former U.S. Attorney Don Cazayoux, but Baton Rouge lawyer, Tommy Damico, represented her at trial.

Video captured by a school surveillance camera shows Lemelle kick the student in his rear as he walked past her.

The surveillance video speaks volumes but what exactly it says depends on which side of the case you fall.

"I never thought the evidence was sufficient enough," said Tommy Damico, the attorney representing the teacher.

Lemelle was cleared of the charge. Damico said the case was blown out of proportion and the allegations exaggerated.

"There was not a kick. She lifted her leg and pushed him along with the side of her foot because her hands were filled with things as he was coming along," Damico explained.

WAFB's Scottie Hunter spoke with the parents of the young child by phone Monday afternoon. While they did not want to do an interview, they did paint a picture of the alleged attack, saying it did not stop there.

According to the child's mother, Lemelle not only kicked her son but also slapped him to get him to pick his head up. It is something she told 9News left bruises. The video was slowed down and zoomed in by 9News to get a better look at the alleged encounter. While it remains unclear exactly what happened, attorney Andre Gauthier, who represents the family, said he was disgusted by the whole ordeal and saddened that an attorney would call what happened anything less than what the video shows.

"Lawyers can use semantics to put whatever spin they want to put on it," Gauthier said. "The video speaks for itself. She kicked him, she slapped him, and took his taco, so that's what the video shows."

Gauthier added though the criminal case is over, the family will still move forward with civil charges.

"We continue to push forward. We will push forward and I'm going to see justice for this kid. I promise you that," Gauthier stated.

9News has learned prior to being cleared of criminal charges, Lemelle has already started a job teaching elementary school in Baton Rouge. Both attorneys have strong feelings about her employment.

"From what I understand, she was an excellent teacher there and is probably doing a very good job here," Damico said.

"I just ask you. Would you want her teaching your child? I don't think you would," Gauthier added.

9News reached out the the East Baton Rouge School Board to ask how Lemelle was allowed back in the classroom prior to being cleared of criminal charges. Leaders told 9News they are looking into it.

A deputy who later investigated the case wrote in his report that the video also showed the teacher slapping the boy on the back of the head, according to a report in The Advocate newspaper. The child's parents said the alleged incident happened just after the boy sat down at the lunch table. However, the grainy surveillance video makes it difficult to see what happened after the child sat down.

Damico said Monday he believes his client should never have been charged with a felony.

"There was never any cruelty to a juvenile. It never reached that level. It was never more than a 'shove along' for the child," Damico explained.

A misdemeanor charge of battery was discussed in the case, but the child's parents were opposed to the lesser charge and pushed for prosecution on the more serious felony charge. The child was taken to a pediatrician, who noted a red mark and a bruise on the child, prosecutors said. The student's family also brought him for counseling following the incident, prosecutors said.

According to the newspaper report, one witness told investigators the teacher made the child sit alone at a lunch table while other students went through the food line. After other students were done, the boy was allowed to go through the lunch line and returned with two tacos. Witnesses said the teacher took one of the two tacos and told the boy he only needed one of them.

Damico said the teacher's father being a former federal prosecutor had no bearing on the outcome of the case.

"He was never involved in anything other than being in the courtroom with his daughter. Judge Carmichael is an absolute straight shooter and something like that would never affect him," Damico added.

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