A thriving New Orleans baker, catapulted to celebrity as an actor by his roles in two internationally acclaimed films, has been accused of barging into a Mid-City bakery where he formerly worked and swiping hundreds of dollars from the cash register — the alleged culmination of a falling-out with the bakery’s management.
New Orleans police said Tuesday they have obtained a warrant to arrest the actor, Dwight Henry, on one count of theft in connection with the Oct. 30 incident. Henry had not been taken into custody as of late Tuesday. He did not return messages seeking comment.
With no previous acting experience, Henry, 51, soared to stardom with his lead role in the 2012 independent film “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which earned four Academy Award nominations, including best picture, and his smaller part last year in the Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave.” He’s also set to appear in “Sexual Healing,” a forthcoming biopic about the life of Marvin Gaye Jr., portraying the singer’s father.
A review of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court records shows the theft allegations aren’t Henry’s first encounter with law enforcement.
Court documents show he has prior arrests dating to 1988 for various offenses, most of which were not prosecuted — a history that has not been reported in the widespread media coverage of Henry’s unlikely path to theatrical success.
In 2006, for instance, New Orleans police booked Henry with second-degree murder in the stabbing death of a man in the Bywater, but the District Attorney’s Office refused the charges.
“He’s got the whole world fooled,” said the manager of Henry’s former employer, the Buttermilk Drop Bakery & Café on North Dorgenois Street, where Henry previously served as head baker. The manager spoke on the condition he not be named for fear of retribution.
In the most recent case, Henry allegedly called the manager and threatened to “just come in and take over the business,” according to a statement the manager provided to the New Orleans Police Department.
“I think from the threats that Mr. Henry made — and the fact that he actually showed up at the business making threats to not only my client, but my client’s employees — kind of sends a scary message about the kind of person we might be dealing with here,” said Wayne E. Woods, an attorney representing the bakery.
Woods drafted a petition, which has not yet been filed, for a temporary restraining order that would prohibit Henry from entering the Buttermilk Drop Bakery or coming within 300 feet of the manager and his family.
“We’re going to take every step that we need to take in order to protect my client’s business interests and employees,” Woods said.
Henry’s agent, Rocky Arceneaux, said he spoke to Henry late Tuesday and determined the Oct. 30 run-in had been merely “a misunderstanding.”
“We got it resolved,” Arceneaux said, adding the arrest warrant was “going to be pulled” Wednesday. “I just think the guys decided to part ways and there was some misunderstanding.”
Before he appeared on the Hollywood scene, Henry has said, he enjoyed a long career as a journeyman baker, beginning as a teenager in the Lower 9th Ward neighborhood where he grew up. His baking jobs included stints at Tastee Donuts, Dorignac’s Food Center and McKenzie’s, the longtime local chain. In 2004, he opened Henry’s Bakery & Deli on St. Claude Avenue, where the filmmakers of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” first encouraged him to audition.
He later began working as head chef for the Buttermilk Drop Bakery in the 7th Ward, serving up his storied pastries. Contrary to widespread belief, Henry wasn’t the owner of the business but served as head baker, according to Fredro Knight, who said he owns the bakery.
But Henry’s cousin, Troy Henry, a former mayoral candidate, said Dwight Henry had been a business partner in the bakery who had a misunderstanding with its management. He said Dwight Henry’s relationship with the bakery became more contentious in part because the Buttermilk Drop Bakery crew wasn’t involved in the recent opening of Wink’s Buttermilk Drop Bakery & Bistro, Dwight Henry’s new venture near the French Market.
Like Arceneaux, the agent, Troy Henry said the arrest warrant against his cousin would soon be “dropped” as part of a settlement among the former business partners.
“It’s unfortunate that they resolved it by resorting to law enforcement,” Troy Henry said of the bakery manager who accused Dwight Henry of theft. “This is going to end up a civil matter and not a criminal matter.”
Troy Henry said it had been “fairly complicated in how assets, proceeds and other matters were divvied up” at the Buttermilk Drop Bakery. “It was a little less defined than it should have been, even though there was an understanding amongst the parties about how proceeds and equities would be divided up.”
The Buttermilk Drop Bakery, on its website, explains that Dwight Henry had agreed it was in his “best interest” to break away from the bakery and pursue other opportunities.
“Since Mr. Henry’s blossoming success with his acting career, he has been working on many projects and has more recently embarked on new ventures that have taken him away from the Buttermilk Drop Bakery for the past few months,” the website says.
The manager of the Buttermilk Drop Bakery, in his statement to police, said he received a call at 5:30 a.m. Oct. 30 from his assistant kitchen manager alerting him that Dwight Henry was at the bakery “acting as if he was opening up the business as if it was his own.”
“I was suspicious that Mr. Henry would attempt to unlawfully enter the business because on the prior evening, he informed that it was his intent to just come in and take over the business,” the manager wrote. “Mr. Henry, during the conversation on the prior night, said that he would pick up a knife and run me out of the kitchen and called me a (series of expletives).”
The manager said he went to the business and saw Henry “taking funds from the cash register,” a theft he said was also witnessed by the bakery’s head cashier. The bakery management said they initially believed Henry made off with $720 but later determined the sum exceeded $1,000.
The manager called the police, who told him to wait around the corner at a Walgreens parking lot as officers arranged “a team to clear out the situation,” according to the statement. Henry had already left the bakery as the authorities arrived, the statement says, but he allegedly called the bakery’s manager, even as officers were on the scene, and threatened to kill him and his family.
According to the police report, the manager later appeared with Woods at the 1st District police station to offer his account of the theft. Investigators told the manager to prepare a more detailed account of the incident, and he returned three days later with new information and the identities of two witnesses, according to the police report, which notes that Henry’s brother and cousin are police officers.
Court documents show Henry was previously arrested in the Feb. 5, 2006, fatal stabbing of Leroy Paige. The Times-Picayune, quoting the NOPD, reported at the time that the stabbing, which happened several months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, had occurred because Henry felt the victim had made “too much noise” after coming to a residence to pick up Henry’s girlfriend.
A police spokesman said at the time that, with all the community had endured in the storm, “you would hope even more than before that when a person becomes angry, he would have learned to take a deep breath and use his common sense and experience to put things in perspective.”
An arrest warrant obtained by police said Henry and Paige had been “engaged in a verbal argument” that “escalated and became physical,” and that Henry plunged a large knife into the victim’s chest. The warrant said three witnesses, including Henry’s girlfriend, had implicated Henry in the stabbing.
Christopher Bowman, a spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office, said he could not comment Tuesday on the reason the office did not pursue the 2006 case, noting the file was not immediately retrievable. But Ron Ruiz Jr., the former NOPD homicide detective who investigated the case, recalled in a telephone interview that there had been a problem with the credibility of a witness, whom he described as “either a heroin or a crack addict.”
“They didn’t want to go off of that individual’s testimony alone,” he said of prosecutors, “and ultimately that’s why they dropped the charges.”
Henry’s cousin, the former mayoral candidate, described Paige’s death as an unfortunate “self-defense incident.”
“He’s moved past that,” Troy Henry said. “That’s really something we prefer to not bring up again.”
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