White’s appeal calls firing ‘null’

Fired Police Chief Dewayne White on Thursday requested an expedited hearing before the local civil service board, claiming his termination should be overturned because city-parish officials violated his protections under the police officer’s bill of rights.

The appeal, filed with the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board, asserts White’s firing is invalid on its face due to a series of missteps city-parish officials made this month, from the manner in which White learned of his impending termination to the format of his disciplinary hearing before Mayor-President Kip Holden.

“If you don’t follow the police officer bill of rights to the letter, then the law says that whatever you’ve done is null and void,” said Jill Craft, White’s attorney. “That’s why we’ve asked for expedited consideration.”

Holden fired White Monday after accusing him of insubordination and repeatedly violating departmental policy. The termination followed months of mounting tension between White and the local police union.

Murphy J. Foster III, Holden’s attorney in the proceedings, said White’s appeal is “factually inaccurate” and “misstates the law.”

City-parish officials have maintained White is not entitled to a civil service appeal because he is not a classified employee under the local Plan of Government, which states, in Section 9.05, that the unclassified service includes “heads of departments appointed by the Mayor-President.”

However, state law — R.S. 33:2481 — says police chiefs are included in the classified service.

Foster said Thursday that city-parish officials have decided not to seek a court order to block White’s civil service hearing. But he said the city-parish reserves its right to challenge the board’s jurisdiction in later court proceedings.

The five-member civil service board could reinstate White with a majority vote.

“We will respond to the appeal and we will show and produce witnesses and evidence at the civil service board hearing to set the record straight,” Foster said.

The timing of White’s civil service hearing remains uncertain. The earliest a hearing could take place would be next month, but the board’s chairman, Sgt. Bryan Taylor, said it could be April or May depending on scheduling.

Taylor said late Thursday that he plans to contact Craft and Foster early next week to discuss a hearing date. The board meets only once a month, but Taylor said a special meeting could be called to hear White’s appeal.

White’s appeal alleges several violations of R.S. 40:2531, a state statute known as the law enforcement officer’s bill of rights. Craft claims White was never informed, prior to his Feb. 6 meeting with William Daniel, Holden’s chief administrative officer, that he was under investigation, as required by law.

White’s attorney also claims the Feb. 6 meeting should have been recorded. Daniel has said he did not record his Feb. 6 meeting with White, and the city-parish, in response to a public records request, also said no recording exists.

Craft also contends White was denied his right to have an attorney present during his meeting with Daniel. She claims officials also failed to notify White of complaints the police union made against him during his nearly two-year tenure.

The appeal takes aim at a Feb. 13 letter Holden sent to White outlining 14 reasons for his dismissal, including claims that he showed favoritism to a hire, made improper transfers and shredded documents. The letter makes “unconstitutionally vague allegations” that lack dates, times, places and witness information, White claims in his appeal.

“Appellant is entitled to and desires immediate reinstatement to his position with full back pay, emoluments and benefits of his office, together with attorney’s fees as allowed by law,” the appeal states.

The appeal cites a part of the statute that says discipline against a law enforcement officer “without complete compliance with the foregoing minimum standards is an absolute nullity.”