Mayor-President Kip Holden fired Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White on Wednesday, leading to speculation that his clashes with the police union may have played a role in his ouster.
Holden refused comment about the reasons for White’s dismissal when he emerged from a side door to his office about 4 p.m. In response to questions from news reporters who had staked out his office, the mayor said repeatedly with a smile: “We don’t discuss personnel matters.”
William Daniel, Holden’s chief administrative officer, also declined comment on the reasons White was fired.
“When the story is ready to come out, it will come out,” Daniel said.
The Mayor’s Office did not respond to requests for a copy of White’s termination letter.
According to the city-parish plan of government, before removing an unclassified employee, the mayor must serve the employee a notice in writing “setting forth the grounds of the proposed removal,” and setting a time and place no more than 10 days later for an appeals hearing.
After the hearing, which can be public at the option of the employee, the mayor’s action will be final.
Baton Rouge Police Lt. Carl Dabadie Jr. confirmed he is assuming the chief’s duties for now.
“I have taken his responsibilities since he has been terminated,” said Dabadie, who has been with the department more than 26 years.
A Police Department spokesman, Cpl. Tommy Stubbs, said Dabadie served as chief of staff to White, and in that position , by departmental policy, automatically assumes the chief’s duties in his absence.
White could not be reached for comment, and no one answered when a reporter knocked on the door of his house.
Attorney Jill Craft said White has retained her as his legal counsel.
“Chief White will issue a formal statement through his attorney, me, tomorrow,” Craft said.
Several members of the East Baton Rouge Metro Council said Wednesday they were surprised and disappointed at the news that White had been fired.
“I would like to know what happened,” Councilman Trae Welch said. “If there was a problem, then we should have been informed.”
He said he had called Holden’s staff, but as of midafternoon Wednesday, had received no response. He said he was disappointed to find about White’s firing from the news media.
Welch praised White for his tenure, saying that. “The chief has always been extremely responsive to any questions or issues that I as a council person have had.”
Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle said she thought the chief was doing a good job and laid some of the blame for his firing at the feet of the police officers’ union.
“There was a lot of pressure from the union to get rid of him because he got rid of the good-old-boy era,” Marcelle said. “He came in and tried to make everybody equal and that’s apparently not what they wanted.”
Chris Stewart, president of Baton Rouge Union of Police Local 237, did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Marcelle said she found out White had been dismissed when someone called to ask about it.
“It would have been nice if we would have had a courtesy call,” Marcelle said. “I just saw the mayor this morning and he didn’t say anything to me.”
Councilman Joel Boé said the move did not come as a surprise to him.
“The handwriting’s been on the wall,” he said. “He did ruffle some feathers in the union.”
Boé praised White as a leader.
“Him being added to the force has been nothing but positive,” he said. “I wish he would have been given a little bit more time.”
Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe said did not know why the chief was let go. He said he respected White but it is up to the mayor to decide whom he wants serving as chief.
Loupe said the mayor would be criticized no matter what he decided.
“He knows more than anyone in the city of Baton Rouge as to why this happened,” Loupe said. “He wouldn’t make a decision that’s a detriment to the city.”
Councilman John Delgado agreed that it’s the mayor’s prerogative to hire and fire police chiefs.
Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis said she was saddened by White’s firing because she thought he was doing a good job building relationships with the community “in a way that maybe other chiefs hadn’t.”
Councilwoman Tara Wicker said she was “floored” by the news because she thought the Police Department was moving in a positive direction under White’s leadership.
“We don’t have any info about what realistically has happened,” she said.
Wicker said she was seeing more officers on the street and receiving a positive response from the community about White.
“I am kind of without answers,” she said.
The news of White’s firing broke shortly after the end of a news conference about gun safety attended by White, Holden, District Attorney Hillar Moore III, Sheriff Sid Gautreaux and Coroner Beau Clark.
Moore said Wednesday that he had heard rumors about a month ago that White might be fired.
“I don’t have any idea what the reasons for the termination are,” Moore said. “Regardless of whatever the reasons are, my office and myself, we enjoyed a good, cooperative relationship with Chief White.”
Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks said Gautreaux declined comment on White’s firing.
State Police Col. Mike Edmonson said he called White after learning of his dismissal.
“I called him as a friend to check on him because I care about him,” Edmonson said. “He’s a good guy and a good person.”
During White’s tenure, the city-parish launched a program in cooperation with other law enforcement officials called the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination Project, or BRAVE, to fight violence in the city’s high crime areas, such as the 70805 ZIP code. The area is generally bordered by Airline Highway to the north and east, Choctaw Drive to the south and the Mississippi River to the west.
Five police officers were assigned to work in that are as part of BRAVE to earn the trust of residents so they would give officers information about criminal activity. The Police Department and other agencies also have reached out to clergy in the 70805 ZIP code to earn their trust.
Pastor Robert Davis, head of the Berean Seventh-Day Adventist Congregation on Fairfields Avenue, said he and other clergy had a good working relationship with White because he reached out to leaders in the city’s black community for their support.
Davis, who called White’s firing a “sad day,” said the city’s black residents have not had a strong relationship with the Police Department in the past. He said White tried to improve that relationship.
“I think that this firing is going to set us back some. It’s going to set back relationships between the Police Department and the African American community and the African-American clergy — especially that we don’t know what’s going on or why he was fired,” Davis said.
White was named the city’s 27th police chief on May 27, 2011, after working in State Police for more than 20 years, including as command inspector of State Police’s Joint Emergency Services Training Complex. White served 6½ years with the Baton Rouge Police Department’s Uniform Patrol, Traffic and Motorcycle divisions prior to joining State Police.
White said when he was named police chief that he would instill discipline and accountability in the department and would seek to gain public trust through efforts such as community policing. During his public interview process for the job, White said he would find new positions for officers who have “retired in place” and put them in positions where they would have to start earning their paychecks.
White clashed with the city’s police union several times after becoming chief.
White said shortly after he was sworn in that the department was top heavy and that he planned on moving some high-ranking officers from desk jobs to supervisory roles in the field.
Some officers upset over the transfers filed grievances with the Baton Rouge Union of Police Local 237 while others took their complaints to the Internet, posting songs on Facebook and YouTube that made fun of their colleagues who had either been transferred or who had ordered such moves.
The union sided with some of the officers and persuaded the chief to rescind some of the transfers.
White also publicly criticized the union, telling those attending a March meeting of the Baton Rouge Rotary Club that the union was his biggest obstacle to making systematic changes to the Police Department.
The chief ruffled feathers in October 2011 when he said during a radio interview that some officers became so accustomed to dealing with criminals who are black that it “becomes ingrained … that most people (the officers) come across with that color of skin are probably criminals.”
Stewart, the police union’s president, fired back days later on the same radio show, saying the chief’s comments were unfair and inaccurate. He said the Police Department is a nationally accredited, “flagship department,” and “to paint us in any other light is offensive.”
Holden selected White from a list of five finalists chosen by an advisory committee.
The search for a new police chief began in November 2010, when Jeff LeDuff announced his retirement and Charles Mondrick, a 32-year Police Department veteran and former commander of uniform patrol, temporarily took over the position.
LeDuff declined comment Wednesday.
Fifty-two people applied for the chief’s position after LeDuff stepped down.
The Baton Rouge Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board ruled that 41 applicants were eligible to take the civil service police chief exam. Thirty-two of the 41 people took the test, and 30 of those applicants passed.
The pool of 30 was narrowed to 11 and then down to five by an advisory committee Holden formed. Holden picked White out of the group of five.
Advocate staff reporters Jim Mustian, Steven Ward, Bret H. McCormick and Ryan Broussard contributed to this article.