Ex-chief’s missing cell spawns criminal probe
The search for a missing city-parish cellphone issued to fired Baton Rouge police Chief Dewayne White has broadened into a criminal theft investigation, according to court documents and interviews.
Police served an early-morning search warrant Tuesday at the Zachary home of Kim McCants, a woman who, according to an affidavit, had been in regular contact with White on his city-parish cellphone. Zachary Police Chief David McDavid confirmed that officers from his agency and the Baton Rouge Police Department served the warrant between 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. at McCants’ home off Main Street.
McDavid did not offer details on what was recovered, but an affidavit for the search warrant said the “recovery of data” from McCants’ cellphone was “essential to confirm the relationship between” her and White. Detectives sought to collect “information and photos” relating to a “theft and injury to public records” case, the affidavit said.
“This is a Baton Rouge City Police Department phone and is open to public records requests,” the affidavit states. “With the phone missing, we are forced to attempt to recover and maintain the records sent to or received by (White’s) phone directly from the phone belonging to Kim McCants.”
Lt. Don Kelly, a police spokesman, said no charges had been filed in the case and declined to discuss details of the search warrant.
“We have an investigation ongoing,” Kelly said, “and I’m not at liberty to discuss it any further than that.”
White’s attorney, Jill Craft, said White and McCants worked together years ago for State Police, but declined to elaborate on their relationship. McCants could not be reached for comment, and no one answered the door at her home Tuesday afternoon.
Craft said she planned to file a motion early Wednesday seeking to quash the search warrant and suppress any evidence seized. She called the search an illegal “pretext for conducting discovery in a civil lawsuit.”
White has appealed his Feb. 18 termination to the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board, and Craft said the search amounted to “nothing more than a continuation of an unfortunate pattern of behavior by the city in trying to attack my client and get him to withdraw his appeal.”
Craft added, “I find this affidavit for search warrant to be patently offensive, and it is a complete abuse of the criminal process and taxpayer money to use police officers and the criminal courts to conduct civil discovery.”
William Daniel, chief administrative officer to Mayor-President Kip Holden, denied Craft’s claims and said that no one from the city-parish has tried to intimidate White. The Mayor-President’s Office is not involved in the criminal investigation, Daniel said, adding he did not know about Tuesday’s search until after it was executed.
“If he’s under a criminal investigation, it’s a police matter and it’s not a mayor’s office matter,” Daniel said, referring to White. “The police came to me and said they had some leads on where the phone might be and said they might follow up on them.
“That’s a $500 phone. I’m assuming that because of that equipment issue, the police were trying to track down where the phone is.”
The affidavit does not name White directly, referring to him as a “Baton Rouge City Police Officer.” But the document includes some of the same details regarding the usage and disappearance of White’s phone that Holden cited in White’s final termination letter dated Feb. 28.
Holden, who fired White for insubordination and a list of departmental policy violations, has alleged that White refused to return his city-parish cellphone and that he denied having it when police tried to recover it.
According to the affidavit, Baton Rouge police officers went to White’s home Feb. 27 and requested his city-parish phone.
White stated he “was never issued a cellphone,” the affidavit said.
“Throughout this entire time, everybody has known publicly that I represent Chief White,” Craft said Tuesday. “Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why police officers would go and talk to my client, whom they know to be represented by counsel, and not bother to contact me.”
On Feb. 28, investigators executed a search warrant “on the missing cellphone’s records stored at Verizon Headquarters,” the affidavit said. Those records showed White had been in contact with “close personal friends” until at least Feb. 10, four days after he received a letter informing him of his impending termination and cleaned out his desk.
Of the 3,059 texts sent from or received by the phone, 3,047 were to or from McCants’ phone number, the affidavit said.
Records released by Holden’s office show White signed a wireless device use policy for the smartphone in May. But when Holden cited the missing phone among his 20 reasons for terminating White last month, Craft quickly dismissed that accusation as “crazy” and said White did not have the cellphone.
“They can’t say that he has the phone because he doesn’t,” she said at the time.
In an interview Tuesday, Craft said White thought he had left the phone at his office but later realized it had been among some materials he packed up. Craft said White has since given the phone to her.
Separately, Craft alleged that on the weekend before White’s Feb. 18 termination hearing, her office had apparently been under surveillance by officials in a Department of Public Works vehicle.
“There were people stationed at or near my office to see which police officers or which people came to my office,” Craft said.
Daniel dismissed the claim as “incredibly ludicrous,” and noted there is a maintenance lot near Craft’s office where DPW trucks are often parked.
Craft said she also has turned over to the FBI threatening letters White and his wife received regarding his civil service appeal scheduled for mid-May.
One of the letters, addressed to White’s wife, mentioned McCants and warned that “the truth can come out that can destroy a family and the chief needs to withdraw his appeal while he ‘has an ounce of dignity left,’ ” Craft said.
White’s clash with the city has taken its toll, Craft said, and whether he will continue to pursue the civil service appeal is up to him.
“The chief loves his family and he loves the citizens of this city, but he’s also really got to make a decision about what’s best for him and his family,” Craft said. “This has been a very difficult time, and it’s been made worse.”