In listing his reasons for firing Baton Rouge police Chief Dewayne White, Mayor-President Kip Holden pointed to several occasions in which he said White ignored protocol and marched to the beat of his own drum.
In one of those improvisations, Holden claimed, White “endangered lives” and undermined the command structure of the Special Response Team as officers sought to negotiate with an emotionally disturbed veteran who had threatened to harm himself. Holden took issue with White refusing to wear body armor and placing himself between the veteran and the trained entry team at the scene.
“If the individual had begun shooting, you and the responding BRPD officers would have been placed in immediate harm, as those officers would have been unable to return fire given your presence between them and the individual,” Holden wrote in White’s final termination letter, dated Feb. 28.
White’s actions, Holden added, “diverted the focus of the entry team members and increased the possibility of an unfavorable outcome.”
White’s attorney, Jill Craft, defended White’s handling of the incident. She said in a recent interview that White knew the man, went inside his apartment and defused the situation by praying with him.
“That’s exactly what should happen,” Craft said. “I don’t know why anybody’s got an issue or problem with that unless they wanted to go in with guns ablazing and shoot somebody.”
An incident report obtained Friday shows the tactical team was deployed after 3 p.m. Sept. 19 to a residence off Millerville Road. Veterans Affairs doctors in New Orleans had called authorities in Baton Rouge to say they were on the phone with a 64-year-old man “stating that he wanted to harm himself,” the report states.
The doctors warned that the man had a weapon in the home, the report shows.
White, at his Feb. 18 termination hearing, described the veteran as a former Army physician who had recently lost his best friend. “He was depressed and suffered from tremendous daily pain as a result of shrapnel lodged in his back while in combat,” White said.
An officer dispatched to the residence obtained a key from the apartment manager, the report shows. When the veteran failed to answer the door, the officer unlocked it.
“Do not come in my house,” the man said in a stern voice, according to the report.
The officer identified himself and told the veteran he was there to help, the report shows. The man ordered the officer to close the door, then pushed it shut and locked it, the report shows.
After arriving at the scene, White said he “assessed the situation myself,” relying on three decades of law enforcement experience and prior history overseeing the State Police Special Weapons and Tactics team.
“I learned the occupant had no hostages and posed no imminent risk,” White said at his termination hearing. “Rather than have our Special Response Team storm the elderly man’s apartment, I simply walked up to the apartment door and knocked on the door. He let me in, and we began to talk.”
The veteran was upset that his pain medication had not arrived, White said, adding a search of the apartment did not turn up any weapons. “My trained law-enforcement intervention and human compassion fully resolved the situation instead of a full-on assault,” White said at the hearing, noting he was also the highest ranking officer at the scene.
The veteran ultimately came out of the apartment and was taken to the hospital for evaluation, the police report says.
Efforts to reach him for comment last week were unsuccessful.
While the September incident ended without injury, Holden noted in White’s termination letter that it was not initially known whether the veteran had a weapon within reach.
White’s refusal to wear the proper tactical gear violated a departmental procedure that requires Special Response Team members to wear body armor when “assigned to the inner perimeter or any area considered dangerous,” Holden added.
“Your blatant refusal to follow proper protocol severely risked the lives of the individual, BRPD officers and yourself,” Holden wrote in the letter.
Holden added that “typical procedure prevents officers from making agreements or granting concessions without approval of Command, yet you repeatedly promised the (veteran) that he would not have to go to the hospital.
“Simply put, you deliberately omitted an act that it was your duty to perform,” Holden wrote in the letter, “and you acted in a manner that was prejudicial to the BRPD and its officers.”
White, who has been accused of disregarding other departmental policies, has appealed his termination to the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board, which could vote to re-instate him with a majority vote.