Questions raised about evidence handling in BR homicide case

Not long after the assistant to the Baton Rouge Police Department’s legal adviser checked out evidence in a highly publicized cold case homicide investigation, the adviser was reassigned and officials began reviewing whether any policies or laws were violated when the evidence was retrieved.

The evidence, which included incident reports and initial statements made to police in the aftermath of the brutal 1985 stabbing death of Denise Porter, was removed by the assistant to Jonathan Holloway, then BRPD’s legal adviser, in response to a public records request and subsequent subpoena, Holloway said.

The records request and subpoena, both filed earlier this year, were sent by attorneys representing Joel Porter, who was married to Denise Porter at the time of her death and whom police have identified as a suspect in her killing.

Both the records request and the subpoena were filed in connection with Joel Porter’s federal defamation suit against cold case detective John Dauthier. Porter sued Dauthier in January, claiming the detective defamed him by publicly identifying him as a suspect in his wife’s killing. Porter also claims the detective used excessive force by serving him a search warrant on the side of the interstate.

Holloway said the evidence in Denise Porter’s killing was never released to Joel Porter or his legal team after litigation attorneys determined it didn’t have to be released.

Holloway also said he did nothing wrong in having his assistant check out the evidence and noted he has not been reprimanded.

It was not uncommon for him and his assistant to review evidence when responding to public record requests or subpoenas, said Holloway, who has previously run unsuccessfully in elections for district attorney and state representative.

Asked about why he was reassigned from his position as the department’s legal adviser, Holloway said, “I just do what I’m told.”

Attempts to reach Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. were unsuccessful Thursday, but he released a statement through a spokeswoman, saying, “In an effort to protect the integrity of the Denise Porter investigation, we are currently looking into all aspects of this incident in order to ensure that there were no departmental policy or laws violated.”

Holloway’s boss, Parish Attorney Mary Roper, who is in a battle with the Metro Council to preserve her job, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

A statement issued on her behalf said: “In discussions with our client, the Chief of Police, we reached a mutual agreement that Ms. (Kim) Brooks and Mr. Holloway would be transferred. We all felt that each would be better suited for the other’s position.”

The transfer Roper referred to, which took effect May 21, involved Holloway trading jobs with Kim Brooks, who formerly worked as the Police Department’s legal adviser but was reassigned during Chief Dewayne White’s tenure. Holloway now works as the personnel section chief for the parish attorney’s office, said Dawn Guillot, an assistant parish attorney.

Donna Grodner, Joel Porter’s defense attorney, filed a public records request in February and a subpoena in March requesting an array of documents. They included a copy of the entire investigative file regarding Denise Porter’s killing, her autopsy report, DNA test results and copies of correspondence between detective Dauthier and news reporters.

Case files of open investigations are not subject to release under the state’s public records laws.

Grodner defended Holloway’s actions in an interview Thursday, saying his behavior has always been beyond reproach.

“I find it hard to believe that he did anything improper whatsoever,” she said. “I have known him for years and he is considered in the legal community to be extremely above board.”

Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe confirmed that some council members had been notified about concerns regarding Holloway’s actions and reassignment, but Loupe declined further comment on the matter.

District Attorney Hillar Moore III said he was told in passing about the potential issues, but has not officially investigated the claim.

“It’s always a concern when someone outside of law enforcement checks evidence out,” he said. Moore’s office has recused itself from investigating Denise Porter’s death. The Attorney General’s Office is assisting BRPD with the cold case investigation.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen. Follow Ben Wallace, @_BenWallace.