The Baton Rouge Police Department has dropped its investigation into fired Police Chief Dewayne White’s missing cellphone even as a judge on Thursday refused to quash a search warrant police used to seize the cellphone of a Zachary woman linked to White.
Although state District Judge Chip Moore Thursday refused to quash the warrant used to obtain Kim McCants’ cellphone, he barred city-parish officials from releasing of any information contained on McCants’ phone.
Moore’s decision came after two partial days of hearings in state district court, during which attorney Jill Craft, who represents White and McCants, argued that the search warrant lacked probable cause. She said pertinent information was omitted and that the detective who sought it had “shopped” for a judge willing to sign it.
The search warrant was part of a criminal investigation into White for theft of a missing Baton Rouge Police Department cellphone. White said he inadvertently took it while cleaning out his office after he was fired in February.
Moore’s ruling allowed both Craft and attorneys for the city-parish to claim victory.
Craft said she was “absolutely thrilled” by Moore’s ruling.
“Whether it’s by a motion to quash or not, the bottom line is that this information is not public record,” she said.
Assistant Parish Attorney Joseph K. Scott III said he was satisfied that the judge had agreed with the city-parish on nearly every substantive point concerning the warrant.
“This action was initiated by Ms. Craft attacking the warrant itself, which the court did not rule in her favor,” Scott said. “Our position regarding the warrant was completely vindicated.”
According to the search warrant, of the 3,059 texts sent from or received by the White’s phone, 3,047 of them were to a phone that belonged to McCants. Of the 337 calls, 285 of them were to or from McCants’ phone, the warrant says.
In previous court filings, attorneys for the city-parish had said they were investigating White “for a number of possible infractions, including but not limited to the theft of the city-parish cellphone.”
Scott announced at Thursday’s court hearing that the criminal investigation had ended due to insufficient evidence. Scott said later in an interview that he did not know when the Police Department decided to end the investigation but that he had been told about it before lunch on Thursday.
At the end of the hearing, Craft asked Moore to continue his ruling from earlier in the day barring the release of any information recovered from McCants’ phone.
Scott countered by asking the judge if texts White sent to McCants from his city-parish issued phone could be released in response to public records requests made by the news media, including The Advocate.
“The only way we get to those messages is by getting information from Ms. McCants’ phone,” he said. “The information we have been deprived of leaves us with no alternative in terms of answering public records requests.”
Craft has said she is holding Chief White’s phone.
Craft argued that under a wireless device use policy signed by White when the phone was issued, some personal communication is allowed and should not be subject to disclosure under the state’s public records laws.
“The policy does not say all of it would be public record,” Craft said. “Nothing on this woman’s phone, I don’t care who she got it from, is public record.”
Craft accused the Police Department and Mayor-President Kip Holden’s office of trying to humiliate White and McCants.
“They have used the criminal court system,” she said. “The only purpose is to disseminate information publicly to humiliate that woman and Chief White.”
Scott asked Craft to put the city-parish phone in the custody of the court.
Craft said she had no objection and agreed to turn the phone over to the court Friday.
When asked after the hearing about the nature of the relationship between McCants and White, Craft responded, “That’s between the two of them and Chief White’s wife.”
McCants, who attended Thursday’s hearing, could be seen wiping her eyes after Scott said there was no further criminal investigation. She later cried quietly as the judge ruled that no information from her phone could be released.
Asked after the hearing if she was relieved by the ruling, McCants looked to Craft.
“You can say yes,” Craft told her.
McCants declined to answer any further questions.
Craft said the entire exercise was an attempt to humiliate White and McCants and to try to dissuade White from appealing his Feb. 18 firing by Holden.
Craft said that William Daniel, who serves as Holden’s chief administrative officer, was “plugged into” the investigation even before the warrant was issued.
“I think it’s appalling,” Craft said.
She provided a copy of a March 18 email from the interim director of the city-parish’s Information Services department, Eric Romero, to Daniel and to Detective Cleveland “Mack” Thomas, who obtained the warrant.
The email asks questions related to cell towers and calls made from White’s city-owned phone.
“William, we can review at our meeting tomorrow,” the email reads. “I want to be sure of the next steps before asking Wendi to map the calls.”
Reached by phone Thursday night, Daniel denied that the email was evidence of the mayor’s office taking an active role in the investigation.
“The police were just trying to figure out how they could track the cellphone and I referred them to Eric Romero and the IS department,” Daniel said. Thomas “was trying to figure out where the cellphone was going.”
As for the reference to a meeting, Daniel said he had regular meetings with department heads and that he and Romero meet every Tuesday.
On March 26, Daniel had told an Advocate reporter in reference to White, “If he’s under a criminal investigation, it’s a police matter. It’s not a Mayor’s Office matter.”
The search warrant for McCants’ phone was issued March 25.
Daniel reiterated that the Mayor’s Office was not “one iota” involved in the investigation, although Daniel said he received “occasional updates on how the investigation was going.”
The Advocate filed a public records request Wednesday afternoon seeking documents related to the theft investigation of White’s city-parish cellphone. Police officials were preparing to release the materials Thursday morning when Moore issued an oral order blocking the release at the behest of Craft.
Advocate staff writer Jim Mustian contributed to this article.