The defense attorney for fired Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White asked a judge Wednesday to sanction a detective she claims “fraudulently” obtained a search warrant to further a criminal investigation involving White’s failure to return a city-parish cellphone after he was fired last month.
The attorney, Jill Craft, filed an emergency motion seeking to quash the “illegal” search warrant and have the “fruits of the seizure” destroyed, setting the stage for a legal battle that will play out next week in 19th Judicial District Court. The motion came a day after police served the search warrant at the Zachary home of Kim McCants, a woman authorities say had been in regular contact with White on his city-parish cellphone.
Detectives, having reviewed White’s phone records for leads on where it might be, said in an affidavit that the “recovery of data” from McCants’ cellphone was “essential to confirm the relationship between” her and White. Investigators were looking for “information and photos” relating to a “theft and injury to public records” case, the affidavit said.
Craft said Wednesday there is no need for a criminal investigation because “there is no crime.”
Although White initially told police in the days after his termination that he did not have the phone, Craft said he has since given it to her.
She said she plans to introduce the phone as an exhibit in White’s civil service appeal in mid-May because Mayor-President Kip Holden, in a final termination letter, cited the missing phone as one of the 20 reasons he ultimately fired White.
State District Judge Chip Moore has scheduled a hearing for 1 p.m. Wednesday on Craft’s motion. Craft said Detective Cleveland Thomas, the investigator who swore the affidavit for the search warrant, will be called to testify.
Craft has alleged the criminal investigation is the latest example of the city-parish trying to intimidate White into abandoning his civil service appeal. She said in the motion that White received an anonymous letter at his home Feb. 25 “informing him of a celebration involving various law enforcement officers of his termination as well as encouraging him to forego his appeal.”
Holden, in a telephone interview Wednesday evening, said if White was fired for being a “master of deception,” then Craft has proven herself to be “the master of misinformation and sleight of hand.” Holden distanced himself from the ongoing police investigation, but he said White and Craft have only complicated matters due to their failure to “get their story straight” on where White’s cellphone was when the authorities sought to retrieve it.
Craft has said White initially thought he left the phone at his office but later realized it was among some materials he had packed.
“There’s no personal agenda here on my part,” Holden said. “We are not getting a straight answer, and so she’s glorifying herself and (spreading) misinformation to try to throw the public off of what is actually going on.”
Holden added that he saw some “serious ethical problems” on Craft’s part as an attorney because she has chosen “to hide pertinent information to a case and then make up all of these excuses.” Holden fired White on Feb. 18 for insubordination and a list of departmental policy violations.
In her emergency motion, Craft contended that any evidence seized in Tuesday’s search should be destroyed, and that McCants’ cellphone should be returned to her. Craft argued that Thomas omitted pertinent information in his affidavit applying for the search warrant, and failed to establish probable cause for a search of McCants’ phone.
Those “critical” omissions prevented Commissioner Nicole Robinson, who signed off on the search warrant, from a thorough review of “all the facts material to the existence of probable cause,” Craft argued in the motion. She said it is “well-established law” that the facts establishing probable cause for a search warrant have to be contained in a supporting affidavit.
Craft claimed the search violated McCants’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.
“It is simply unconscionable that the criminal court system of this Parish would be utilized in such a disingenuous and inappropriate manner, and these actions should not be tolerated,” Craft’s motion says.
In the motion, Craft refers to White as “the clear subject” of a criminal investigation but says Thomas intentionally omitted White’s name from the affidavit. The affidavit refers to White only as a Baton Rouge police officer.
“In addition, the location of the alleged theft was intentionally omitted and instead stated as ‘unknown,’ ” the motion said. “Further, there are no facts included which would suggest from whom or what source Ms. McCants’ identity was obtained; there is no confidential informant mentioned nor does Det. Thomas state he includes this identity on his own knowledge.”
The motion also calls into question Thomas’ credibility, describing him as a former member of Holden’s security detail and part-time driver.
Parish Attorney Mary Roper said Wednesday that she had not reviewed Craft’s motion and could not yet comment on it.
Rebekah Allen contributed to this report. Advocate staff writer