East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden and his chief administrative officer, William Daniel, have repeatedly denied any involvement in the recent investigation into former Police Chief Dewayne White and his missing city-parish cellphone.
But documents released Tuesday in response to a public records request show the criminal inquiry began after Daniel contacted Baton Rouge police Detective Cleveland Thomas and requested he try to locate White’s cellphone.
Thomas begins an investigative summary describing a conversation he had with Daniel about White’s missing cellphone. Thomas had learned from Daniel, the report says, that police had gone to White’s residence trying to take back the cellphone.
White denied ever being issued a department phone at the time, prompting his former colleagues to take out a search warrant to obtain the cellphone of Kim McCants, a Zachary woman White had been conversing with on the phone.
White’s attorney, Jill Craft, said Thomas’ report proves that Holden’s office served as the driving force behind the criminal investigation. Craft has maintained that city-parish officials launched the investigation to embarrass White and discourage him from pursuing his termination appeal next month before the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board.
“I think it’s really shocking from the standpoint that if you read his report, he clearly says it was William Daniel and the Mayor’s Office who started this whole fiasco about the telephone,” Craft said.
“He’s completely driving the train, and he’s the complainant,” she added, referring to Daniel.
Daniel denied those claims in a telephone interview Tuesday, saying he was not pulling any strings while police investigated White. Detectives closed the theft case last week, citing a lack of evidence after Craft produced White’s cellphone.
“I didn’t ask (Thomas) to turn it into a criminal investigation — I just said can you find the cellphone,” Daniel said. “He made the determination that it was a criminal investigation. We just wanted to know where the phone was.”
“They did what police do at that point,” Daniel added. “I have no control over any of that.”
Holden fired White on Feb. 18 for violating a list of departmental policies. White accused Holden of micromanaging his office and undermining his authority. The legal wrangling over White’s cellphone comes as attorneys prepare for White’s Civil Service Board appeal set for three days, beginning May 13.
Craft last week provided reporters a copy of a March 18 email from Eric Romero, interim director of the city-parish’s Information Services department, to Daniel and Thomas. The email asked questions relating to cell towers and calls made from White’s city-owned phone.
Daniel has said the email did not represent 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 last week.
While police closed the theft investigation last week, state District Judge Chip Moore ruled city-parish officials could not release any information contained on McCants’ phone, saying the thousands of text messages she exchanged with White are not public record.
According to Thomas’ report, state District Judge Louis R. Daniel also “did not agree that just because the cellphone was issued by a department that it would be” public record.
Thomas’ report confirmed that Louis Daniel, the first judge asked to sign the search warrant for McCants’ cellphone, refused to sign the document on March 19. White’s attorneys have accused Thomas of “shopping” the warrant around to Commissioner Nicole Robinson, who signed it several days later.
Thomas explained in his report that Louis Daniel “brought me into his office, sat me at a table and went through my warrant making suggestions about the warrant’s format and wording.”
Thomas said he initially presented his investigation as an “injury to public records” case because police believed “there may be a public records issue with White not returning his phone.”
After being denied the warrant, Thomas said in his report, he continued to research the case, spoke with his supervisors and “found that a more appropriate charge would be the theft of the cellphone.”
“The delay between attempting to get Judge Daniels (sic) to sign the warrant and getting the second warrant signed was due to other cases that I have to work and researching the proper crime to request the search warrant on,” Thomas wrote in the report.
While the text messages between McCants and White were redacted from the documents released to The Advocate, the police report included a conclusion Thomas made after reviewing the text messages.
“I was also able to find numerous texts from White’s cellphone to McCants’ cellphone that revealed an affair between White and McCants,” Thomas wrote in his report. “I believed this to be the sole reason White refused to turn in his departmentally issued cellphone.”
Craft reacted angrily to the inclusion of that paragraph and said she would ask Moore on Wednesday to impose criminal sanctions against the city-parish for violating his order. Craft would not comment on White’s relationship with McCants beyond saying, “Whatever happened is between the chief, his wife and Ms. McCants.”
But she added that she was “disgusted” by the reference to the affair in Thomas’ report.
“If the Mayor’s Office wants to throw out allegations about affairs, then maybe we need to be looking at everybody who’s been involved in this transaction to determine whether or not they’ve had affairs,” Craft said, refusing to elaborate. “This highlights the fact that this is a tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars, and I’m shocked that we’re spending police precious time on trying to determine whether or not somebody engaged in inappropriate behavior between their spouse and somebody else.”