Mayor-President Kip Holden made a case Wednesday for firing Police Chief Dewayne White, accusing him of leaking confidential information, shredding documents, failing to discipline an officer who lied under oath and repeatedly violating departmental policy.
Holden, after a week of silence, released a letter seeking to clarify that White remains on paid leave pending a public hearing Monday, during which the chief will be allowed to respond to a wide range of allegations.
Among the allegations is a claim that White exhibited “irrational and unacceptable behavior” during his tenure.
The letter lays out a laundry list of accusations that Holden says led him to “seriously consider” accepting a recommendation made last week by William Daniel, the chief administrative officer, that White be fired.
“As these issues have continued to mount and accumulate, I have lost confidence in your ability or capability to continue as the chief of police of the city of Baton Rouge,” Holden states in the letter.
White’s attorney, Jill Craft, dismissed the allegations as “ridiculous.”
“If you look at the letter, it’s full of allegations but it’s very thin on any policy, procedure or state law he allegedly violated, because he didn’t,” Craft said.
Craft said White will appear at the hearing Monday before Holden, but she also filed an appeal Wednesday with the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board. Craft contends White is a classified employee under state law and is therefore entitled to an appeal before the five-member board, which may vote to re-instate him.
City-parish officials, meanwhile, have maintained White is not classified, citing the Plan of Government. Holden reaffirmed that position in his letter Wednesday, but he did not say that the city-parish would try to prevent White from having a civil service hearing.
The president of the local police union, Chris Stewart, has supported White’s termination and blamed the chief for an increase in violent crime. But Stewart, who had repeatedly clashed with White, said he thinks White is entitled to a civil service appeal.
“I think (White) should be allowed every avenue of protection a police officer has because, at the end of the day, a police officer is fired for good faith and cause and I think that standard should be held for everyone,” said Stewart, president of Baton Rouge Police Union 237. “That five-page letter is more than good faith and cause.”
Holden’s letter lists 14 accusations, three of which refer to White’s hiring and treatment of an officer who is not identified in the letter but whom Holden refers to as the godson of White’s wife. Holden suggests that White exercised favoritism and broke policy when he hired the officer because he did not require the officer to undergo a standard psychological evaluation or go before a board for an oral interview.
Holden said White improperly started the officer at pay step 10, equal to an officer with 10 years of experience. The letter claims White allowed the officer to work overtime and extra duty assignments immediately, rather than making him wait for a time, as required by departmental policy.
Craft, however, said White’s wife’s godson is 3 years old.
“It’s representative of what’s been happening,” Craft said. “The union gets angry at my client for taking responsible personnel actions and then goes to the mayor behind my client’s back and accuses him of all kinds of baseless things, like, for example, that his wife’s 3-year-old godson could somehow be an employee of the Police Department.”
“If he’s got somebody in mind,” Craft added, “he needs to name names and be accurate about it.”
Holden claims White abused his discretion by “inappropriately transferring persons from sensitive positions in a manner that violated established departmental policy and procedure, not to mention the collective bargaining agreement between the city and the police union.”
After the civil service hearing of an unnamed Baton Rouge police officer, Holden claims in his letter, White was “discovered crouching below a partition in the internal affairs office in an apparent attempt to overhear conversations.”
“I think that’s just pure fantasy,” Craft responded. “It really kind of highlights, I think, the paranoia that’s driving this whole scenario.”
On more than one occasion, Holden claims, White leaked confidential information regarding sensitive matters. The letter says White made a “premature statement” regarding the potential acquisition of the Woman’s Hospital campus for local law enforcement agencies.
“This information was extremely confidential as negotiations for the acquisition were ongoing,” Holden said in the letter. “Your intentional leak of this information to the press jeopardized the negotiations to the prejudice of the city-parish.”
Craft said, “Last time I checked, the city of Baton Rouge is a public body. These are our monies, our funds, and it’s our right to know what’s going on with our stuff.”
Holden also claimed that White looked the other way and failed to discipline an officer who lied under oath during an administrative hearing White attended. Craft countered that White had been ordered not to take any personnel actions for the last two months, though he had sent to the mayor-president’s office “a number of proposed disciplinary letters, none of which got acted on.”
After Daniel presented White a termination letter last week, Holden wrote, White went to “the criminal records office and began shredding documents.” Craft said her client had done some shredding “under the watchful eye” of mayor’s office staff members.
“My client did shred documents in that one-hour time frame that he was given to vacate his office,” Craft said. “What he shredded were people’s Social Security numbers and crime statistic reports, which nobody needs to have a copy of.”
Holden also claimed White was “neither forthcoming nor truthful” about Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan’s visit to Baton Rouge last fall. Holden had been criticized during his last campaign about the use of city police to ferry and guard Farrakhan as he traveled from New Orleans to a speaking engagement at Southern University.
“Ultimately, your statements regarding the lack of overtime required for the detail were proved false and intentional misrepresentations of the truth,” the letter says. “Due to this, you were asked not to make any further statements to the press. Instead you disregarded those instructions and did so anyway.”
Referring to the Farrakhan incident, Craft said White “gave a direct order to a supervisor who used to be president of the union. He authorized that gentleman only to incur overtime. That gentleman then took it upon himself to task other people and incurred overtime on behalf of these other officers in violation of the chief’s order.”
Holden also claimed White removed crime cameras without authorization from high-crime areas in Baton Rouge, which had been “instrumental in the city’s fight against illicit drug deals and crime in those areas.” Craft, however, said White had been “deliberately excluded from the loop as it relates to any of these crime cameras.”
The mayor’s letter was released late Wednesday afternoon as the Metro Council meeting was under way, but news of the letter quickly made its way through the members.
As a result of White’s proposed termination, Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle earlier this week had placed an item on the agenda to discuss changing the city-parish Plan of Government so that the police chief position is voted on by the people rather than appointed by the mayor.
The discussion item was on the agenda’s administrative matters, and required the council to waive the rules to hear the item, but Councilman John Delgado objected. Delgado said the discussion would only serve to give council members an opportunity to berate the mayor or the Police Department, which he said was inappropriate.
Marcelle, who has been the council’s most vocal supporter of White since the firing, said she was “leery” of Holden’s accusations.
“Prior to his firing we were told he was doing a great job, so it seems odd this all came out after the public’s outcry for answers,” she said.
Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards said she was pleased to see some answers from the mayor’s office about White’s abrupt dismissal, but she’s not taking sides. “My grandmother always used to say there’s two sides to a story, and the truth lies somewhere in the middle,” she said.
Councilwoman Tara Wicker said she’s interested in hearing White’s response to the accusations, because some of the mayor’s allegations could be viewed in different ways. “Everything in here is not black and white, and there are extenuating circumstances,” Wicker said.
Delgado said he thinks the public fighting could have been avoided if White had chosen to resign.
“When you are asked to resign or you’re going to be fired, and you’re an at-will employee, you should resign,” Delgado said. “Move on. What is the motivator here? Does he realistically think he can still work with the police department after all of this?”
Delgado noted that the union makes up the vast majority of the police department’s officers, “so when he’s criticizing the union, he’s really attacking the rank-and-file members of police force.”
Advocate staff writers Robert Stewart and Ryan Broussard contributed to this report.