Letter adds details to why chief ousted
Mayor-President Kip Holden offered new details Thursday about his firing of Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White, including a claim that White rewrote department policy to benefit an officer he has been accused of favoring.
Holden released a 12-page letter that portrays White as an insubordinate department head who bucked protocol and played by his own rules. The letter repeats claims Holden aired before White’s termination hearing last week, but also includes new allegations and names witnesses who could be called to testify at the ousted chief’s civil service appeal hearing.
White’s attorney, Jill Craft, said Thursday that the final termination letter represents “an act of desperation” on the part of city-parish officials. She also noted that city-parish officials had failed to provide White notice of all of the allegations earlier on in his termination proceedings.
Holden has previously criticized White’s hiring of Officer Brad Bickham, a canine handler assigned to the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination patrol unit, claiming Bickham was not required to undergo the same evaluations as other hires.
Holden has said Bickham, the father of White’s wife’s godson, was allowed to work overtime and extra-duty assignments immediately after he was hired instead of having to wait, as required by departmental policy.
In a final termination letter released Thursday in response to a request under the state’s Public Records Law, Holden alleged that White also inflated Bickham’s pay and unilaterally altered a departmental policy regarding the payment of off-duty officers who testify outside East Baton Rouge Parish.
According to the letter, Bickham put in a request for overtime pay to the Police Department’s business manager in October 2011 after testifying in 21st Judicial District Court. The testimony stemmed from Bickham’s prior employment with the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office, Holden said in the letter.
The business manager, Sue Trammell, told Bickham the department’s policy did not provide for officers to be paid for testimony not relating to their employment as Baton Rouge police officers, the letter states. Having been promised payment by White, Bickham left the accounting office and returned with a note from the chief approving the payment, the letter states.
About an hour after Trammell wrote a letter to White reminding him of the department’s policy, White showed up in the business manager’s office with a letter citing a separate policy that grants the chief final authority, the letter states.
“Therefore until the appropriate guiding principle is changed, please let this correspondence serve to supplant current policy regarding payment of off-duty officers attending court in jurisdictions outside East Baton Rouge Parish,” White wrote, according to the termination letter. “It shall be the policy of this department that officers shall honor all subpoenas, for duties they performed as a law enforcement officer, which has (sic) been issued by a court of competent jurisdiction outside the parish of East Baton Rouge. In such cases, the officer shall receive just compensation paid by the department, pursuant to policy, union contract, or by order of the chief of police.”
Craft, White’s attorney, said the issues Holden is raising now are two years old.
“The law says you can’t discipline somebody for stuff that’s that old,” she said.
Craft maintains Bickham did not benefit from any favorable treatment, and was hired and paid, along with other officers, commensurate with his experience as a law enforcement officer.
“What you quickly realize is this (letter) is nothing more than some sort of ‘We need to cover our behind,’ ” Craft said. “So they’re reaching back to things that occurred in 2011 that everybody knew about in 2011 to say ‘Well, this is why we’re firing him in 2013.’ ”
White has appealed his firing to the local Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board, claiming his dismissal is null and void because city-parish officials violated provisions of the police officer’s bill of rights in his termination. The five-member board could re-instate White with a majority vote.
The board’s chairman, Sgt. Bryan Taylor, said Thursday night that White’s hearing likely will be held in April or May.
Craft said she feels even more confident about White’s chances of prevailing on appeal after seeing Holden’s final letter.
“I know the law,” she said. “I know what is required, and this is nothing but a bunch of window dressing and trying to fix a problem after they’ve already created it.”
In the termination letter, Holden also accuses White of failing to return a city-parish issued cellphone and denying ever having been in possession of it. Craft called that accusation “crazy,” adding White only had the phone for a short period of time and has otherwise used his own cellphone.
“They can’t say that he has the phone because he doesn’t,” she said.
Records released by Holden’s office Thursday show White signed a Baton Rouge Police Department Wireless Device Use Policy on May 9, 2012, for a smartphone with a phone number with the last four digits of 7-6-8-2. The rest of the phone number was blacked out.
Craft said that isn’t White’s cellphone number and never has been.
The termination letter also accused White of failing to attend a meeting about the proposed consolidation of the Police Department and the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, as directed by Holden’s chief administrative officer, William Daniel.
The termination letter also says White prepared the Police Department’s budget for 2013 “not in accordance with protocol” and missed the deadline for completing it.
Holden alleges in the letter that White lied at his termination hearing last week when he claimed Cpl. Chris Stewart, president of the local police union, had been a direct hire who was hired without going before a review board. The mayor said Stewart, in fact, appeared before a review board and that White’s comments “constituted dishonest conduct and conduct of a wantonly offensive nature toward a municipal officer.”
Holden also claimed White handled a number of recent transfers, including Stewart’s, “inappropriately.” The mayor mentioned a group of officers transferred about a year ago to be fingerprint technicians who have appealed their transfers to the civil service board.
Holden said in the letter that White has been inconsistent and demonstrated favoritism in disciplining officers.
Holden cited an incident in which he said White “knowingly ignored” the actions of a captain who had lied under oath during a civil service appeal. The letter cites state law that “requires that a person who gives false testimony to the Civil Service Board be subject to penal discipline.”
Holden added, “Moreover this type of favoritism is damaging to morale and violative of established departmental policy.”
According to Holden, White also sought to subvert the city’s crime camera system. At his termination hearing, White had denied Holden’s claim he removed cameras from key locations, noting the program was supervised by the mayor’s chief administrative officer.
White criticized the program, however, saying, “the costs associated with the purchase and maintenance of the crime cameras, I don’t believe, justify the end.”
Holden wrote that White refused to provide resources, equipment and personnel to the camera program requested by Sgt. Robert Gann, the officer assigned to oversee the cameras. White’s actions regarding the crime cameras demonstrated an “unwillingness to provide the program with the resources necessary to ensure its success and to assist in the fight against crime in certain areas,” Holden wrote.
The letter also contains several passages about a controversy over the overtime pay officers received during Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan’s visit to Baton Rouge last fall.
In his letter, Holden questions White’s claim that Capt. Noel Salamoni disobeyed orders and enlisted other officers for the security detail.
“Interestingly, Captain Salamoni has never been disciplined for his alleged ‘disobedience’ of your orders,’ ” Holden wrote in the letter, “nor has such ‘disobedience’ of a direct order ever been investigated.”
Advocate staff writer Ryan Broussard contributed to this report.