Mayor, White trade charges at hearing
Mayor-President Kip Holden fired Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White on Monday, calling the chief a “master of deception” who disobeyed orders and divided the community during his nearly two-year tenure.
The dismissal, announced after a contentious hearing in the Metro Council chambers, capped a whirlwind couple of weeks during which White was accused of insubordination and repeatedly running afoul of departmental policy.
Reading from a prepared statement Monday, White rebutted a list of accusations Holden made last week, and aired several of his own complaints with an administration he said had micromanaged him and made his job “impossible.”
The hearing shed new light on the internal strife between White and city-parish officials, and the chief also sought to highlight the “vestiges of racism” he says have torn the department apart.
“I inherited a department where preferential assignments had been given on the basis of favoritism as directed by the police union,” White said, defending his record and attributing his demise to unpopular changes he made in the department.
Despite White’s contention that pressure from the police union led to his dismissal, Holden maintained that “no politics” entered into the termination process. After more than an hour of testimony, the mayor recessed to deliberate privately and then announced White’s firing before the standing room only crowd, drawing a smattering of applause.
“Chief will not be able to hide behind a written statement and false accusations,” Holden said. “I will not stand here and allow to him to divide this community any further.”
Addressing reporters after the hearing, Holden said White had told a “convenient story” instead of the truth. “This man is the master of deception, and the people of Baton Rouge deserve a lot better,” Holden said.
White’s attorney, Jill Craft, pivoted to her next avenue of appeal, saying she plans to file an amended pleading Tuesday with the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board, a five-member panel that could vote to reinstate White.
City-parish officials said they may seek clarification from the courts or state attorney general as to whether state law, which entitles White to civil service relief, trumps the local Plan of Government, which says White is an unclassified employee who serves at the pleasure of the mayor.
Craft has said there is no question that White is entitled to a civil service appeal. The chairman of the civil service board, Sgt. Bryan Taylor, has said the board plans to hold a hearing for White barring court intervention.
That hearing likely will not be until March or April at the earliest, Taylor has said.
White responded point by point Monday to a list of 14 accusations Holden had outlined last week, saying the mayor had been “sorely misinformed.” The chief addressed the department’s race relations, having been accused of making inflammatory remarks to the news media regarding racial bias within the department.
“Whether you or anyone else wishes to acknowledge it or not, we have a serious race-relations problem between our officers and the public we serve,” White told Holden. “I am personally aware of numerous instances of racial insensitivity and bias, as are you.”
As an example, White said he recently sought to discipline a white homicide detective who made derogatory remarks while standing over the body of a black man who had been murdered. The detective “stood over the body at the scene and remarked that ‘I am here on my wife’s birthday and I’m standing over a dead … ’ and I’ll use the N-word,” White said.
“Not only were the officer’s comments and conduct deplorable,” White added, “but they could potentially cause to be called into question all of his prior investigations involving African-American victims.”
White said he submitted a proposed disciplinary action to William Daniel, Holden’s chief administrative officer, to have the detective transferred, but his request was “inexplicably” denied. Daniel said in an interview Monday that he had not denied the request and provided to The Advocate an email that identifies the detective as John Colter. Daniel, in the email, called Colter’s conduct “egregious” but expressed concern about due process being followed.
Lt. Don Kelly, a police spokesman, said Monday that Colter remains assigned to the homicide division.
White said that, based on recent discussions with federal authorities, the department is unlikely to come out from under its long-standing federal consent decree anytime soon.
“In my last communication with the United States Department of Justice, they expressed grave concern that the Police Department still is not doing enough to recruit and hire black persons and females,” White said.
As an example of the department’s poor track record on diversity, White pointed to the case of Kelley Morgan, a black cadet he said was forced to resign 14 weeks into the training academy.
“She alleges from day one in the academy she was harassed and treated more harshly than her peers,” White said, adding that Morgan sent a written complaint of sex and race discrimination to his office.
While investigating Morgan’s claims, White said, he re-instated her to a position in the records division. City-parish officials said they confronted White about unlawfully paying Morgan as an officer and ordering her paid for work she had not earned.
Holden, in his letter, said White unethically loaned Morgan $1,000 and disobeyed a directive to cease communicating with her. Holden, responding to Morgan’s testimony Monday, promised a “proper investigation” into Morgan’s case, but he took exception to White’s portrayal of the department as having systemic problems with race relations.
“There has been discrimination in this department,” the mayor said after the hearing, “but that’s been long before Kip Holden became mayor.”
White denied showing favoritism to Officer Brad Bickham, a canine officer he hired who is the father of his wife’s godson. According to Holden’s letter, White did not require Bickham to undergo a psychological examination or go before the oral interview board, as had been required of other new hires.
But White said Bickham and three other veteran officers hired at the same time had undergone those tests at previous jobs, and that the tests would have been a waste of taxpayer dollars to repeat when hiring them.
Accused of looking the other way after Capt. Lonnie Lockett allegedly lied under oath during a civil service hearing, White said he had disciplined Lockett “in the form of counseling.” He also denied a claim that he had been discovered crouching below a partition in the internal affairs office “in an apparent attempt to overhear conversations.”
“Sir, I don’t crouch,” White said.
As an example of Holden’s alleged micromanagement, White referred to a night in January when the mayor called him on his cellphone about 11:15 p.m. and ordered him to move a DWI checkpoint because it was too close to a downtown function. Holden said the checkpoint was interfering with traffic on a night when two Mardi Gras balls were held downtown.
White said Holden’s micromanagement of the department “began in earnest when I transferred union president Chris Stewart to the pistol range.”
“No one within the Baton Rouge Police Department could verify that Mr. Stewart was doing any work, much less showing up for work,” White said. “In fact, the problem had become so significant that his supervising officers were reluctant to sign his time sheets because they did not want to get in trouble for certifying Mr. Stewart was working when they didn’t know whether he was or not.”
Stewart did not respond to requests for comment Monday. Charlie Dirks, the union’s attorney, said Stewart would respond Tuesday after he obtains copies of departmental records that refute White’s statements.
Holden had accused White of shredding documents earlier this month after he learned of his impending termination. White acknowledged this but said the documents were copies — not originals — that contained sensitive information such as Social Security numbers, and that shredding them was more “prudent” than throwing them away.
White denied claims he ordered the removal of crime cameras from the city, saying the camera system was supervised by city-parish officials. But White also questioned the city-parish’s use of the cameras.
“To the best of my knowledge, we do not have the resources nor the technology to even use the cameras to monitor activities throughout the city,” he said.
White denied leaking confidential information about the city-parish’s interest in acquiring the Woman’s Hospital former campus, saying the possible acquisition was well known. “This is public money,” White said, “and frankly there’s no secret,”
Holden also had claimed White misled his office about the use of police to ferry and guard Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan during his visit to Baton Rouge last fall. But White said Monday that Capt. Noel Salamoni had disobeyed orders and enlisted other officers for the security detail.
“My only fault in this matter is expecting what I did not inspect,” White said.
Advocate staff writer
Rebekah Allen contributed to this report.