Suit: Cellphone seizure meant to embarrass ex-chief, woman

Updated at 6:30 p.m. — A Zachary woman, who found herself at the center of a criminal probe last year of fired Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White, filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the department and the city-parish, claiming the contents of her confiscated cellphone were made public in order to embarrass, harass and intimidate her and White.

Kim McCants, who also sued Police Chief Carl Dabadie and Detective Cleveland “Mack” Thomas, acknowledges in the suit she had a “personal relationship” with White, but says she ended it in late 2012 — several months before her phone was seized.

East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden fired White on Feb. 18, 2013, for what the mayor described as acts of insubordination and a host of departmental policy violations, including his missing city-parish issued cellphone. White in turn accused the mayor of micromanaging his office and undermining his authority.

McCants’ suit claims Baton Rouge and Zachary police officers “stormed” her home on March 26, 2013, and seized her personal cellphone. The suit alleges the phone was taken as part of an investigation ordered by Holden’s office.

Holden’s office referred a reporter’s request for comment Thursday to the Parish Attorney’s Office, where Parish Attorney Mary Roper said she could not discuss the pending litigation. Police spokesman Cpl. L’Jean McKneely gave the same response.

Jill Craft, who represents McCants and has represented White, had plenty to say.

“In the over-the-top onslaught by the (Holden) administration against former Chief White, Ms. McCants and her rights as a citizen of this country became collateral damage,” Craft said. “She, like all Americans, enjoys a clear right of privacy in her cellphone contents.

“Ms. McCants’ rights were shockingly trampled by the very people elected and appointed to serve and protect us. Ms. McCants’ hope is that this will never happen to another person. She wants the truth about what happened to be told and those responsible held accountable,” Craft added.

Holden and his chief administrative officer, William Daniel, have repeatedly denied any involvement in the investigation of White and his city-parish phone, which White has said he inadvertently took while cleaning out his office after he was fired.

It was later turned over to the 19th Judicial District Court.

Craft said she was not required to sue the mayor individually.

“We sued the city, which is represented by the administration — the mayor,” she said.

McCants’ suit disputes the mayor’s and Daniel’s denials.

“Thomas, who served as the driver for Mayor Holden, was ordered by the Mayor’s Office to personally conduct that ‘investigation’ and was advised to incur as much overtime and expenses as needed,” the suit contends.

“During the ‘investigation,’ the Police Department and Thomas discovered the existence of the prior relationship between (McCants) and Mr. White. Thomas was then ordered by the Mayor’s Office through Mr. Daniel to obtain as much evidence of the relationship as possible in order for the Mayor’s Office to release it publicly for the sole purpose of embarrassing Mr. White,” the suit adds.

“In reality, (the) true nature of seeking the (search) warrant was to obtain personal text messages and communications between Mr. White and (McCants) which the defendants then intended to release publicly to deliberately humiliate both Mr. White and (McCants),” the suit says.

According to the search warrant, of the 3,059 texts sent from or received by White’s phone, 3,047 of them were to a phone that belonged to McCants. Of the 337 calls, 285 of them were to or from McCants’ phone, the warrant says.

In a decision later backed by the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal, state District Judge Chip Moore refused April 4 to quash the warrant police used to seize McCants’ cellphone but he ruled the thousands of messages on her phone should not be released to the news media after a criminal inquiry into White’s missing departmental phone was closed without charges.

The following week, the Parish Attorney’s Office responded to a public records request by releasing copies of a police report summarizing detectives’ efforts to locate White’s unreturned phone.

Roper has stated previously the text messages in question were blacked out of Thomas’ report.

McCants’ suit alleges Dabadie, Thomas and numerous other Police Department employees “viewed the entire contents of her cellphone, including her most private and personal communications and information, printed out the contents, shared the contents with non-Police Department individuals, blew up and passed around photographs from (her) cellphone, made fun of the private and personal contents … , and even sent copies of the cellphone contents to several members of the media and other law enforcement agencies.”

McCants is seeking damages from the city-parish, Police Department, Dabadie and Thomas.