Facts surrounding firing of BRPD cadet disputed

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Kelley Morgan, left, testifies for embattled Police Chief Dewayne White, second from left, while appearing at a hearing Monday before Mayor-President Kip Holden. Council members, from left from White, Tara Wicker, Ronnie Edwards, Donna Collins-Lewis and C. Denise Marcelle, watch. Holden fired White after the hearing concluded.
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Kelley Morgan, left, testifies for embattled Police Chief Dewayne White, second from left, while appearing at a hearing Monday before Mayor-President Kip Holden. Council members, from left from White, Tara Wicker, Ronnie Edwards, Donna Collins-Lewis and C. Denise Marcelle, watch. Holden fired White after the hearing concluded.

A black woman cadet who was asked to resign from a recent police academy has been thrust into a public spotlight in the dispute between fired Chief Dewayne White and Mayor-President Kip Holden.

White insists her forced resignation illustrates the larger problem of racial and sexual discrimination in the department, while Holden pointed to what he described as White’s poor handling of the situation as one of the reasons he was fired.

In Holden’s Feb 13 letter to White, Holden recounted a cadet who “failed to meet the requirements of a recent cadet class” and resigned. Once she complained to White, Holden said, he rehired her as a file clerk, gave her back pay and paid her at an officer’s scale, “clearly violating several laws, policies and procedures.”

At Monday’s hearing where White appealed to retain his job, he brought in the cadet in question, Kelley Morgan, defended her record and asserted that she was a victim of discrimination.

White said Morgan was brought into the police academy with a 7-0 vote to hire and suffered only two demerits, “one for forgetting her flashlight and one for forgetting her radio.”

“She alleges from day one in the academy that she was harassed and treated more harshly than her peers,” White said.

White said Morgan filed a written discrimination complaint and that he allowed her to continue working in criminal records while he investigated her claim. He also told her she could join the next police academy, but was later forced to fire her by the Mayor’s Office.

William Daniel, chief administrative officer for Holden, said Wednesday that White never reported the discrimination complaint to the Mayor’s Office, which would have been proper procedure. Daniel characterized White’s decision to pay Morgan an officer’s salary while she was a clerk as payroll fraud.

Jill Craft, White’s attorney, responded that Morgan filed a complaint, but could not provide it to the media without Morgan’s consent. Efforts to reach Morgan for comment Wednesday were not successful.

White said Monday that at least two other recruits who either flunked out or were injured were afforded the same opportunity to work in the department at recruit level pay.

“It’s a long-standing practice that they’ve done repeatedly for others,” Craft said Wednesday. “Unless they can cite some statute or guideline, they don’t have any business accusing my client of anything.”

Daniel acknowledged there might be procedures in place to employ former recruits in the office, “but I’m saying that White didn’t follow them.”

Letters from Morgan’s training academy director and supervisors to White detail complaints about Morgan’s performance.

On Nov. 7, Sgt. J.D. Leach wrote White informing him Morgan had chosen to resign the previous day in lieu of being fired. He said she had twice been reprimanded about “a weave in her hair being outside of BRPD regulations,” reported for duty without her flashlight and radio, and had directed an expletive at a fellow classmate.

Leach wrote that class leaders advised that Morgan “lacked integrity, honor and teamwork,” and “only cared about herself and did only the work necessary to get by.”

In a Dec. 3 letter from Capt. C. Odom to White, Odom attempted to dissuade White from allowing Morgan to rejoin another scheduled academy, which White had promised Morgan she could attend.

“It is my opinion that she should be terminated while she is not covered by civil service,” Odom wrote. “Since you have shown that your administration is based on accountability and respect of rank my recommendation should be in line with this administration’s belief.”

White responded on Dec. 7 that he was never consulted about Morgan’s dismissal and did not give the academy permission to ask the recruit to resign.

In a memo from BRPD personnel attorney Kim Brooks to the Metro Council, Brooks states that White had continued to violate the law after he had been informed about the violations. She said his violations included allowing Morgan to receive recruit level pay while working as a clerk, and hiring her as a clerk without following proper civil service procedures.

Brooks also said Morgan was not allowed to return to the POST academy as promised by White, because she had missed more than the minimum amount of days during her first academy. Brooks wrote that Morgan was issued a “detrimental reliance settlement” of $3,663 because she was relying on White’s promise that she would remain employed at the department.

Craft said the check was not a settlement, it was a paycheck for work that was performed.

When she picked up her funds, Morgan was asked to sign a release form asking her to drop any claims she had against the city-parish, but Morgan refused.

Craft said the Mayor’s Office must have been aware of her discrimination complaint, because they asked her to drop her claims.

“You don’t make them sign a release of claims if you’re taking the position that ‘I didn’t think she had any claim to begin with,’ ” Craft said.

Holden’s letter also took issue with a loan that White’s assistant had given Morgan for $740 dollars after she was fired.

“This loan, which was highly inappropriate, was clandestinely made by you to your secretary, who you then asked to make the loan to the individual,” Holden wrote.

Craft said she couldn’t understand why a loan made with nonpublic funds from one employee to a fired employee would be of any concern to the Mayor’s Office.

Holden said Monday at the hearing, that he would open an investigation into Morgan’s claims now that he’s been alerted. Daniel said the parish attorney’s office will investigate.

“I think she really has been wronged,” Craft said. “I hope the mayor is true to his word that he’ll investigate.”