An assistant parish attorney who checked out evidence related to a cold case homicide earlier this year was cleared of wrongdoing after investigations by the Parish Attorney’s Office, the Baton Rouge Police Department and an independent review by the state Attorney General’s Office.
The Advocate in May reported that Jonathan Holloway had been reassigned from his job as Police Department legal adviser after he checked out evidence related to the 1985 stabbing death of Denise Porter in response to a public record request for documents filed by Joel Porter’s attorney. Porter has been named as a suspect in court documents.
Acting Parish Attorney Lea Anne Batson said in an email Thursday that “after an extensive investigation by this office and the Police Department, as well as an independent investigation by the AG at our request, it was determined that Mr. Holloway did not at any time release privileged or confidential information to opposing counsel or Mr. Porter himself in the Porter case.”
But she said another assistant parish attorney, Tedrick Knightshead, did “inadvertently” provide what are typically considered confidential police reports during an investigation to Porter’s attorney.
A July 31 letter from Richard “Mike” Thompson, director of investigations for the Attorney General’s Office, to the Parish Attorney’s Office states that “there is no supportive evidence at this time to suggest that anyone purposely released evidence, documents, or reports in an open criminal case to a third party as a result of a Public Record Request.”
The issue was publicly brought to light by Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe on Wednesday during a hearing where former Parish Attorney Mary Roper was fired. Among his list of grievances, he said that under Roper’s watch, one of her employees released “all of the police records of a pending homicide investigation to the opposing counsel for a first-degree murder case.”
Batson said in an email that “supplemental police reports were inadvertently produced in the initial disclosures in the (Joel) Porter civil suit by another attorney in our office, Tedrick Knightshead.”
While incident reports, which detail an initial complaint or crime, are public record, supplemental police reports detail the subsequent investigation and are not subject to automatic public release.
After the initial investigation into Holloway, Batson said, it was determined that Knightshead had produced the documents during the course of defending Baton Rouge police Detective John Dauthier in a civil lawsuit. Porter is suing Dauthier for defamation for publicly identifying him as a suspect in his wife’s killing. Porter also claims the detective used excessive force by serving him a search warrant on the side of the interstate.
Batson said Knightshead failed to remove the supplemental police reports, “which were confidential because the criminal investigation remains open,” before turning over exhibits to Porter’s attorneys.
She said Knightshead was not officially disciplined because the disclosure was not intentional.
But she said out of “an abundance of caution,” the case was reassigned to two other assistant parish attorneys. Batson also said procedures and policies in the Parish Attorney’s Office and the city Police Department were amended to prevent similar errors from happening again.
Grodner, Porter’s attorney, confirmed that she received “heavily redacted” supplemental police reports in addition to search warrants. But she said they are considered public records, and she is fighting in federal court for the city-parish to release the rest of Porter’s file. State law allows family members who obtain court approval to have access to police files in homicide cases 10 years after a death.
Porter also is seeking to force Advocate reporter Jim Mustian to testify about the source of police documents quoted in a January story about Denise Porter’s killing, a move the newspaper is fighting in court. No ruling has been issued.
Grodner said she is seeking documentation that could potentially identify her client as a suspect in Denise Porter’s death. She contends that Porter is not a suspect.
She noted that while questioning Dauthier for the civil lawsuit, the detective would not identify Porter as a suspect.
When asked during the deposition, “Who labeled Joel Porter a suspect?” Dauthier responded, “No one.”
However, a police search warrant filed into the court record in January said, “Porter has always been a suspect in his wife’s murder.”