White denies accusations

Advocate file photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- This June 2012 photo shows former Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White. The city-parish on Thursday decided to pull the plug on an investigation of White involving a missing cell phone. Show caption
Advocate file photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- This June 2012 photo shows former Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White. The city-parish on Thursday decided to pull the plug on an investigation of White involving a missing cell phone.

The letter outlining a proposal to fire Police Chief Dewayne White incorrectly described White’s relationship with a police officer Mayor-President Kip Holden claims received favorable treatment, White’s attorney said Thursday.

The officer, who was not named in the letter, was described as the godson of White’s wife. But attorney Jill Craft said the godson is actually the son of the officer, Brad Bickham, a canine handler assigned to the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination patrol unit.

Craft denied that White had shown favoritism in hiring Bickham, and suggested the error in Holden’s letter underscored the flimsiness of his case for firing the chief.

The letter listed 14 accusations against White, including claims he violated “statutory law,” department policy and directives from Holden. White has said he plans to appear at a public hearing at 9 a.m. Monday in the Metro Council chambers to respond to the accusations.

Holden’s letter outlined an array of grievances, including that he shredded documents and failed to discipline an officer for lying under oath.

Three accusations refer to White’s hiring and treatment of Bickham. White ran afoul of department policy when he hired Bickham, Holden said in his letter, because he did not require Bickham to undergo a standard psychological evaluation or go before a board for an oral interview.

Holden said those steps “had been required of all potential new hires” before Bickham.

White also allowed the officer to work overtime and extra duty assignments right away instead of requiring him to wait for a time, as required by departmental policy, Holden said in the letter.

“You effectuated this change regarding the wait period by memorandum only and not by a policy change, which is needed to continue in good standing with national accreditation,” Holden said in the letter. “This type of favoritism is damaging to morale and violative of established departmental policy.”

White denied knowing Bickham and said he had no familial relationship with the officer when he was questioned, Holden claims in the letter. “You attempted to mislead my administration by providing the names of other officers hired who you said were not required to go through the typical hiring process,” Holden wrote.

White also broke policy in providing Bickham a canine for his assignment in the BRAVE unit, Holden said in the letter, a privilege “typically reserved for those who have proven themselves for a period of no less than three years within the BRPD.”

Craft maintained Thursday that Bickham had not benefited from any favorable treatment. She said he was hired, along with other officers, due to his expertise and experience in law enforcement. Bickham is a former sheriff’s deputy in Iberville and Livingston Parishes, she said.

“A number of external hires were not required to go through the initial hiring procedures because those are set up for brand new, rookie employees,” Craft said. “There’s a lot of precedent for that.”

Craft added that “a number of employees’ kids in that department are godchildren of their superior officers. That in no way is nepotistic or has caused any kind of concerns, and certainly doesn’t violate any policies.”

Bickham declined comment when contacted on Thursday, saying department policy forbids him from speaking to the news media.

Bickham is assigned to a BRAVE patrol team aiming to establish “genuine relationships with members of the community and patrol high crime areas that have already been identified by law enforcement,” said Sgt. Herbert “Tweety” Anny, the unit’s director. The team is not obligated to answer normal patrol calls and spends its days developing relationships with people in the crime-ridden 70805 ZIP code, Anny said.

Some of White’s most ardent supporters have pointed to the BRAVE crime-fighting initiative — which Holden also has hailed — as a hallmark of the chief’s brief tenure.

“Since his appointment, Chief White has made obvious efforts to address the concerns of all citizens, particularly those who live in the areas most plagued by crimes,” Myron K. Daniels, capital area president of the Magnolia State Peace Officers Association, said in a statement Thursday. The association was established by “minority persons concerned with the quality of law and order,” according to its website.

White was willing to make “unpopular” decisions at times, regardless of whom it affected, Daniels added in the statement.

But Holden said in his letter that mounting issues caused him to lose confidence in White’s ability to lead the department. Chris Stewart, president of the local police union, said he thinks the entire union, which represents 95 percent of the department, had grown dissatisfied with White’s leadership.

The union has clashed with White repeatedly and some Metro Council members and others have attributed the chief’s pending termination to the union’s political influence.

“You take the union out of it,” Stewart said, “and he was a bad chief.”

The discord between White and city-parish officials has been highlighted this week by their conflicting interpretations of whether White actually was fired last week or merely informed by William Daniel, Holden’s chief administrative officer, that his termination had been “proposed.” Daniel proposed in a Feb. 6 letter to White that he “be terminated effective today,” referring to a “substantial disagreement with the direction of the future” of the Police Department.

According to Craft, Daniel told White shortly after an unrelated news conference that he had been fired, effective immediately, and that the chief was given an hour to clear out his belongings. Craft previously said that police had been to White’s home to collect his city property, including his vehicle and badge, but she backed away from that statement in an interview Thursday.

Craft said White had been told last week that officers planned to collect his belongings but later reversed course.

Holden sought to clarify in his letter that White remains on paid administrative leave pending his hearing Monday. City-parish officials were not able to provide documentation of White being placed on leave, but a pay stub obtained by The Advocate shows White was to be paid Friday.

Daniel said he thought some records continued to reflect White as still working. “I don’t know if the police did the accounting or not,” he said, “but we’re going to do whatever we have to do to go back and correct the records.”

Craft also has insisted that Daniel recorded his Feb. 6 meeting with White, a claim city-parish officials denied in writing Thursday in response to a public records request. “It never even occurred to me to record it,” Daniel said. “I’ll readily admit that during conversation when my phone buzzes, I look at it, so maybe that’s what he thought.”

Murphy Foster, Holden’s attorney, said an appeal Craft filed this week with the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board would not be valid because White has not yet been terminated. But he said that decision will likely be made shortly after the Monday hearing before Holden, which will be limited to an hour and a half.

“I suspect the decision will be made that day,” Foster said. “I don’t think it’s anything that anybody wants to drag out.”