BR police union sues State Police for records on White

Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG -- Dewayne White is seen in this February, 2013 photo.
Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG -- Dewayne White is seen in this February, 2013 photo.

Baton Rouge’s police union has asked a state district judge to decide whether Louisiana State Police should turn over disciplinary records and emails it requested related to ousted Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White’s tenure as a state trooper.

The Baton Rouge Union of Police Local 237 filed a petition Tuesday in state district court, saying State Police unfairly rejected a Feb. 18 public records request seeking the White documents.

The petition asks the court to determine whether the records should be released or to set a hearing on the matter.

The union argues in its petition that the records do not qualify for exemption under Louisiana’s public records law.

“The public should be ensured that both the activity of public employees suspected of wrongdoing and the conduct of employees who investigate the suspects is open to public scrutiny,” the petition says.

The case has been assigned to Judge Kay Bates.

White’s attorney, Jill Craft, called the union’s suit a “fishing expedition.”

“It proves to me that it was the union that was behind the decision for Chief White to be terminated,” she said.

The union sent the records request to State Police and the agency’s superintendent, Col. Mike Edmonson, asking for any documents “which involve any cautionary statement, reprimand, informal disciplinary action or formal discipline” issued to White in his more than 20-year stint with State Police.

Michelle Giroir, an attorney supervisor for the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections’ Public Safety Services division, said in a Feb. 21 letter to the union, that State Police did not find any disciplinary records — as defined by State Police policy — against White.

“Any other documents that you described which are not considered discipline, if they exist, are not subject to release under the Public Records Laws,” Giroir’s letter says.

Giroir also cited a Louisiana State Police Commission Rule that says a “letter of counseling or warning” does not qualify as disciplinary action and that such letters are not public documents.

Christopher Sonnier, the attorney who filed the records request and the petition, responded to Giroir on Feb. 22, threatening legal action if State Police did not comply with the request.

Sonnier cited a suit that Capital City Press, parent company of The Advocate, filed against the Baton Rouge Police Department in 2006 requesting documents related to a department investigation of allegations of abuse and misconduct following Hurricane Katrina.

The Police Department denied a public records request from The Advocate asking for files related to the internal probe. The Advocate sued in July 2006 to force police to release the documents.

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in October 2008 that The Advocate had a right to examine the files of completed internal investigations in which officers were not exonerated. The Louisiana Supreme Court in May 2009 refused to hear appeals of the 1st Circuit’s decision.

Sonnier also asked for copies of any emails White sent to other State Police employees since Jan. 1, 2005, “wherein the content included statements about lesbians, gays or homosexuals.”

Sonnier declined Wednesday to elaborate on the reason for that request.

The union’s petition says State Police responded March 15 by handing over an email sent by White. The petition does not disclose what the email says.

No other documents were provided, the petition says.

Sonnier also declined comment Wednesday when asked about the purpose of the lawsuit and the records request. He said he would withhold comment until the union received the records.

Craft, White’s attorney, said her client had no disciplinary issues at State Police, and noted he had been “extensively” vetted before Mayor-President Kip Holden appointed him as Baton Rouge police chief in 2011.

She said the filing also appeared to be motivated by White’s upcoming appeal hearing, tentatively set for mid-May.

“The union sure is spending a lot of time, money and effort trying to prosecute my client,” Craft said.

State Police spokesman Capt. Doug Cain said the organization has received the lawsuit and is reviewing it. He declined further comment.

Holden fired White on Feb. 18, less than two weeks after his chief administrative officer, William Daniel, recommended his termination.

White has accused Holden of micromanagement and has claimed the police union played a role in his firing.

Holden has called the former chief a “master of deception” who disobeyed orders and divided the community during his nearly two-year tenure.

Advocate staff writer Jim Mustian contributed to this report.