The president of the local police union broke his silence Friday on the firing of Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White, issuing a statement that blamed White for an uptick last year in violent crime and accused him of being a poor leader.
Chris Stewart, president of Baton Rouge Union of Police Local 237, expressed his support for Mayor-President Kip Holden two days after White was handed a termination letter and asked to resign or be fired on the spot.
Stewart denounced White’s nearly two-year tenure as “the most tumultuous era ever within the Baton Rouge Police Department,” adding the union was “truly disappointed” at his lack of leadership.
“We are very pleased to start a new era in law enforcement within the Baton Rouge Police Department,” Stewart said in the statement. “As we have with every previous police chief, we pledge our full support to whoever the next police chief is.”
Lt. Carl Dabadie Jr., White’s chief of staff, has assumed the chief’s duties for the time being. By departmental policy, the chief of staff takes over the duties in the police chief’s absence.
White plans to appear Feb. 18 for a hearing at Holden’s office to challenge his termination, his attorney, Jill Craft, has said.
The ousted chief also is planning an appeal before the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board, which could vote to reinstate White. Such a vote would likely be appealed in state District Court either way, but attorneys in the case do not even agree on whether White is entitled to a civil service hearing.
Stewart’s remarks came a day after Craft held a news conference at her downtown office blasting city-parish officials and accusing Holden of micromanaging the Police Department. Craft told reporters White’s decision to transfer Stewart from professional standards to community policing had further strained White’s relationship with the police union.
She also claimed that White had been forbidden from speaking to the media at times and ordered not to put certain business matters in writing because they would then become subject to the state’s public records law.
Murphy J. Foster III, an attorney representing Holden in White’s termination, said in a telephone interview Friday that Craft’s allegations are “flatly denied” by city-parish officials.
“They’re false,” Foster said, “and they do not hold water.”
Foster also said White technically has not yet been terminated pending his hearing before Holden, during which White will be given a chance to make a case for retaining his employment. But Craft called that characterization of White’s employment status “ludicrous,” noting police went to White’s house Friday to recover his city property, including his vehicle, badge and bullet-proof vest.
“I understand there might be some attempt now to reinvent history since they figured out that they have violated or are in the process of potentially violating state civil service law,” Craft said, “but the fact is my client was told, ‘You’re fired, get your stuff out, don’t come back and you will no longer be paid as of Feb. 6, 2013.’ ”
Stewart, in his statement, blamed White for creating hostilities within the Police Department “by refusing to treat all in an equal manner, making irrational decisions without the facts to support same and creating an environment that severely affected departmental morale.”
“Ultimately, this festered into an openly hostile climate where Chief White alienated himself from the vast majority of officers from all ranks of the Baton Rouge Police Department,” Stewart said in the statement.
The union had sought to mediate these hostilities with Holden, he added, “to create a safe and secure environment for our citizens.”
“Rather than work with us to address this issue, Chief White chose to publicly attack our organization and its members without provocation in an attempt to shift the blame for the failure of his leadership,” Stewart said in the statement, alluding to White’s telling the Baton Rouge Rotary Club that the union represented his largest obstacle to effecting change in the department.
Craft took issue with Stewart blaming White for an increase in violent crime last year and a decrease in total arrests, results that Stewart said were “directly related to decisions made by Chief White.”
Stewart, who did not respond to a request to cite specific decisions by White, also said the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination crime-fighting project has been successful in spite of White and his lack of “positive direction.”
“I think it’s appalling that the president of the union is going to say crime is on the rise, in other words implying that his own members aren’t doing their job,” Craft said. “Police officers in this city put their lives on the line every day, but that’s exactly what he’s saying with a statement like that.”
Craft has said White received an “outpouring” of support from the community after his dismissal. But Stewart said the union is seeing “unprecedented unity and support among the men and women” of the Baton Rouge Police Department, along with support from the business community.
Holden has not commented on White’s dismissal, but Foster on Friday said the mayor-president may issue a statement before the Feb. 18 hearing.