Public sounds off on firing of BR police chief

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Metro Council members, from left, Ronnie Edwards, Donna Collins-Lewis, at the microphone, Tara Wicker and C. Denise Marcelle speak at a town hall meeting Monday organized to allow the public to comment on Police Chief Dewayne White's firing. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Metro Council members, from left, Ronnie Edwards, Donna Collins-Lewis, at the microphone, Tara Wicker and C. Denise Marcelle speak at a town hall meeting Monday organized to allow the public to comment on Police Chief Dewayne White's firing.

Dozens of Baton Rouge residents — including two women who worked under fired Police Chief Dewayne White — sounded off Monday morning about Mayor-President Kip Holden’s decision to fire the chief.

The majority of speakers said they supported White and felt he was working hard to repair the fragmented relationship between Baton Rouge residents and the Police Department and he was taking a stand against discrimination within the department’s rank and file.

The residents offered their comments at a town hall meeting hosted by some Metro Council members immediately following the contentious termination hearing during which White appealed to Holden to keep his job as police chief. Holden ultimately decided to fire White.

At the town hall meeting, Baton Rouge police Sgt. B.J. Sommers said White’s claims of discrimination in the department are true.

“Too many people are going through too many ordeals, whether it’s racial, sexual orientation or anything else,” she said. “I’ve been a victim of it through this department.”

Sommers said she may lose her job for making her public statements Monday.

After the meeting, Sommers declined to elaborate about how she had been a victim, but said she agrees with White that discrimination in the department is a serious problem.

During the 11/2-hour termination hearing, White claimed he had been thwarted by the Mayor’s Office in his attempts to address the police department’s race relations and discrimination problems. At the end of the hearing, Holden appealed to the community to not allow White’s actions divide the parish.

“We shouldn’t sit here and allow him and anyone else to divide people regardless of their station in life,” Holden said.

But that didn’t stop people like retired Baton Rouge Police Department Capt. Debra Roan from expressing support
for White at the town hall meeting.

Roan said she had been with the department for 31 years and was impressed by White’s dedication in addressing discrimination.

“I witnessed him bring structure and safety and concern and love,” Roan said.

The Rev. Robert Joseph, whose church is in the 70805 ZIP code area where Operation BRAVE is targeted to reducing violent crime, said he wants to see White reinstated.

“He’s been a chief who is hands-on with my community, and he has helped me to trust and believe in those who serve and protect again,” Joseph said.

The Rev. Frank Rideau was also supportive of White.

“I know he’s been doing a great job and I believe the mayor ought to reconsider,” Rideau said.

The family of Corey Kaufman, a Baker man fatally shot by a security guard at a Baton Rouge night club in August, attended the public hearing to support White, who they say reopened a case investigating Kaufman’s killing when no one else would.

Barbara Kaufman, Corey Kaufman’s mother, claims her son was shot unjustifiably by a private security guard at the Sha La Club, but detectives with the Baton Rouge Police Department determined the shooting was in self-defense.

Demetria Kaufman, Corey Kaufman’s sister, said the family called the Mayor’s Office to complain about the investigation conducted in part by Detective John Colter.

Demetria Kaufman said White met with the family personally to offer his assistance and assured them the investigation had been reopened. She said Colter had been taken off the case, and new detectives had been assigned.

No arrests have been made, but District Attorney Hillar Moore III told The Advocate on Monday afternoon that he wouldn’t rule out bringing it to a grand jury if additional information is uncovered.

During White’s termination hearing Monday, the police chief also alluded to problems with Colter during a different homicide investigation. Without identifying Colter by name, White said he’d tried to reprimand an officer for using racist slurs about a dead black man during a homicide investigation. Colter was identified later by the Mayor’s Office.

“We had a problem with him, too,” Demetria Kaufman said. “We’d lost all hope until Chief White stepped in.”

At least one person who attended the public hearing said he supports Holden’s decision to fire White.

Lance Jones said his wife, who worked for the Police Department, had issues with White and his administrative staff.

“He failed to investigate the issues going on in his office,” Jones said.

Jones’ wife was fired last year from the Police Department, and she has since filed a discrimination lawsuit against the department in state district court. Charlotte Jones, who is white, alleges in her lawsuit that she was discriminated against because of her race.

Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle, one of the hosts of the town hall meeting, said she thought the comments from the public were fairly representative of the chief’s overall support from parish residents.

Marcelle said she still intends to ask the Metro Council to consider making the police chief an elected position, rather than an appointee of the mayor.