Arlee man wants permanent ban lifted
ARLEE — On March 6, 2008, Francis Pierre was found not guilty of assault against his son’s basketball coach by a trial jury in Libby District Court.
Now Pierre is fighting to lift a permanent ban that does not allow him to attend Arlee School events on and off school property.
“I’m not allowed to attend any school events and it’s terrible,” Pierre said, explaining that he still has relatives who attend Arlee School and he wants to attend their activities. Pierre is a 1974 graduate of Arlee High School.
“I was acquitted of the fact in Libby by a jury of my peers,” Pierre said. “(But) I’m still suffering for it and it’s heart wrenching.”
Pierre doesn’t deny that he punched Hobbs, but claims he was protecting his son.
Pierre said Hobbs “verbally assaulted” his son Richard after the game and he reacted.
“That’s what fueled what happened,” he said. “All I was doing was protecting my son. When my family gets abused I’ll stand up for them. I didn’t want to cause a scene but I acted on impulse,” Pierre said after the incident in a 2007 Valley Journal article.
Today Pierre still stands behind his actions. “My son was the one that was abused the most out of this. The coach was the one in the wrong,” he said.
Chuck Smith was the bus driver for the Arlee boys’ basketball team the day the incident occurred in Libby. Smith said he was sitting in the stands and he remembered seeing Pierre leaning next to the door as Hobbs walked back into the gym.
“I glanced up and as the coach came out Pierre cold clocked him,” Smith said. “He wasn’t hiding but he also wasn’t visible.”
Smith said Coach Hobbs stumbled across the floor and was bleeding. Several people came to his aid while others corralled Pierre until police.
Smith said he would have served as a witness at the trial, but he was never called.
“I had a clear view of the whole thing,” he said.
“We didn’t even know he existed (as a witness) until after the trial,” former coach Brandon Hobbs said of Smith. Hobbs said at the time the only known witnesses were Pierre, his son and Hobbs himself.
Hobbs said he sustained a fractured jaw and required two staples in his head.
A first-year coach at the time, Hobbs said the whole incident left “a bad taste in his mouth” and he left his coaching position soon after.
He added that the only solace he received was a handwritten letter from District Judge Michael C. Prezau, who oversaw the case, and apologized for its outcome.
On Feb. 26, 2007, the Arlee School board held a special meeting at which they decided to permanently ban Pierre from all Arlee School events and activities on and off school property.
The only time Pierre was allowed to attend a school event was to watch his son’s graduation in 2008.
Pierre said he wrote a letter at the start of this year appealing to the board to lift the ban. He said he received a return letter in March stating that the school board did not intend to lift the ban at this time. In response, Pierre claims he has made several calls to Arlee Schools Superintendant John Miller that have gone unreturned.
“They just want to sweep it under the carpet,” Pierre said. “My civil rights are being violated.”
Superintendent Miller maintains that though Pierre was acquitted of criminal charges, the decision to ban him from school property and events is still up to the board.
“We don’t have to bear that burden of following that same legal system,” Miller explained. “We don’t have the same standards."
"We don’t allow our students to act like that so why should we let our adults.”
Miller said Pierre’s case could be addressed again if the school board puts it on their agenda. He added that there are two new members on this year’s school board.
“I don’t think anyone can be banned for life,” School Board Chair Amy Burland said. “If he got it to the agenda or came to a school board meeting we could address the case.”
She said in order to get his case heard by the school board, Pierre would need to ask the board chair, the superintendant or two school board members to put it on the agenda.
Pierre said in addition to his calls not being returned, he is also not allowed on school grounds, so attending school board meetings are out of the question.
“I’m tired of not being heard,” Pierre said.
Hobbs believes lifting the ban sends the wrong message and puts others in potential danger.
“His actions that day were atrocious,” the former coach said. “His actions were not only an embarrassment for himself and his son, but the entire Arlee community.”