Board chairman: Chief entitled to hearing

The Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board will hold an appeal hearing for Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White if he is officially terminated next week, but that appeal likely would not be heard for at least a month, the board’s chairman said Friday.

City-parish officials have maintained White is an unclassified employee under the local Plan of Government and is therefore not entitled to relief from the board, a five-member panel that could vote to reinstate the chief with a majority vote.

But the board’s chairman, Sgt. Bryan Taylor, said Friday that White is considered a classified employee under civil service rules.

“Unless we are told by some higher court, after conversation and guidance from the Office of State Examiner, we will have a hearing if discipline is administered to him,” Taylor said.

City-parish officials have not said whether they will seek to prevent White from having a civil service hearing.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” said Murphy J. Foster III, the outside attorney Mayor-President Kip Holden hired to handle matters relating to White’s impending dismissal.

Holden has set a hearing for 9 a.m. Monday in the Metro Council chambers, where White will be allowed to respond to a number of allegations contained in a letter recommending White’s termination. Holden is expected to make a final decision on that day, Foster has said.

White’s attorney has said her client has asked that the hearing be open to the public. In addition, Councilwomen C. Denise Marcelle and Ronnie Edwards have called for a town meeting to be held after White’s hearing for public comments.

Holden has outlined a list of reasons he is considering terminating White, including claims that White repeatedly violated departmental policy, leaked confidential information and shredded documents. Among other things, White also has been accused of misleading Holden’s administration, failing to discipline an officer who lied under oath and abusing his discretion by making inappropriate transfers in the department.

While Monday’s hearing in the Metro Council chambers will be limited to an hour and a half, a later appeal hearing before the civil service board would likely take several hours as both sides call witnesses and present their cases.

“I’m sure there will be a lot of character witnesses,” Taylor said. “My concern here is that the procedure is followed, and that it is followed in a manner that lends both sides the same opportunities.”

White’s attorney, Jill Craft, filed an appeal with the civil service board Wednesday before Holden’s office released a letter seeking to clarify that White had not been fired but placed on administrative leave after a meeting with William Daniel, Holden’s chief administrative officer.

Taylor said Friday that the civil service board could not entertain that appeal because it was filed “prematurely,” and that Craft will be required to update the appeal if and when White is terminated.

“From there, we will treat it like any other appeal, be it a suspension or a termination, and it will go in line to be heard,” Taylor added.

Though not yet applicable, White’s civil service appeal offered an early glimpse of the chief’s defense. The appeal, a copy of which was obtained by The Advocate, claims termination is an “unduly harsh discipline” for White given his track record.

“Appellant shows that he has a spotless employment record and no disciplinary history of any kind, having served with distinction,” the appeal says.

The appeal alleges White has been retaliated against due to his “refusal to engage in wrongful conduct, and also on account of appellant’s refusal to provide certain police union members with preferential treatment — all as will be more fully shown at hearing of this matter.”

Craft has attributed White’s termination proceedings to political pressure exerted by the police union. The union president, Chris Stewart, declined to comment on the appeal.

Craft said Friday she plans to amend White’s appeal with the civil service board if need be.

“We’ll see what happens on Monday,” she said, “but I think the die has been cast.”