EBR officials to answer contempt claim in White case

A judge has ordered city-parish officials to answer an attorney’s claims they violated a court order by releasing “salacious” details uncovered during the recent investigation into fired Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White’s missing department cellphone.

State District Judge Chip Moore on Thursday ordered Detective Cleveland “Mack” Thomas, Assistant Parish Attorney Kim Brooks and William Daniel, the top aide to Mayor-President Kip Holden, to show cause at an April 25 court hearing as to “why they should not be found in contempt and sanctioned accordingly.”

Detectives closed an investigation into White’s unreturned department cellphone last week, but Moore ruled the city-parish could not release the contents of a cellphone investigators seized from Kim McCants, a woman linked to White. Police had obtained a search warrant for the Zachary woman’s phone because she had exchanged thousands of text messages with White on his city-parish phone, which investigators were trying to recover after White’s termination.

In response to a public records request, the Parish Attorney’s Office this week released copies of a police report, large portions of which ere blacked out, summarizing Thomas’ efforts to locate White’s cellphone. The report included a paragraph — based on text messages found on McCants’ phone — that concluded White had refused to return his cellphone to the Police Department because of an affair he had with McCants.

White’s attorney, Jill Craft, said that description violated Moore’s order. She filed a “notice of contemptuous behavior” with the court, claiming city-parish officials “concocted” a scheme to release the contents of the text messages regardless of Moore’s ruling.

Moore’s order requires “other members of the Office of the Mayor-President, Office of the Parish Attorney and Baton Rouge Police Department responsible for the release” of the information to attend the contempt hearing.

“I think it’s really disheartening when you have a judge tell you not to do something and they turn around and do it,” Craft said in an interview Thursday. “They talked about what was contained on her phone when (the judge) said they couldn’t. I think our court system is sacred, and I think it needs to be respected at all times.”

Parish Attorney Mary Roper said McCants’ text messages were blacked out of Thomas’ report — a public record — in accordance with Moore’s order.

“The allegations by Ms. Craft that any member of this office, the Mayor’s Office or the Police Department behaved in contempt of the court’s order are outrageous and emphatically denied,” Roper wrote in an email. “Ms. Craft has lost sight that former Chief White was in possession of city-parish property, denied having it and then failed to return it after admitting that he, in fact, did have the phone.”

Roper said Craft, after revealing White had given her the cellphone, also failed to return it “despite amicable demand.”

Craft has since turned the cellphone over to the court.

Roper said, “We look forward to vindication in court and intend to seek appropriate sanctions against Ms. Craft.”

Craft alleged in court filings that Daniel had been “intimately involved in the fallacious ‘criminal investigation’ by Detective Thomas.” The police report shows the theft investigation began after Daniel contacted Thomas and requested he try to locate White’s cellphone.

Daniel said Thursday he “didn’t even know” Thomas’ report had been released to the media “and couldn’t figure out why everyone was calling about the report Tuesday.”

“The parish attorney responded to the public records request in the normal course of business, and does not consult with the mayor’s office on the release of police reports,” Daniel added in an email. “The only ‘scheme concocted’ was by the ex-chief and his attorney as to the whereabouts of the phone.”

The second round of legal wrangling comes nearly two months after Holden fired White for what the mayor described as acts of insubordination and a litany of departmental policy violations. The acrimony between White and Holden’s administration has only deepened since then, as the two sides have increasingly traded barbs in court and in news accounts.

Attorneys are preparing for White’s appeal hearing set next month before the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board, the panel that could vote to reinstate White with a majority vote. Craft has claimed the city-parish began the cellphone investigation to embarrass White and discourage him from pursuing his termination appeal.

City-parish officials have denied that claim and said they were concerned with recovering the property.

“If the ex-chief had returned the phone with his other equipment or informed us he had the phone,” Daniel said, “there would never have been an investigation.”