Harvey Weinstein would be right at home in Baton Rouge.
Why wouldn’t the man who can’t keep his hands to himself not love a place where the “Mad Men” days of ogling female co-workers not only remains a thing—but gets tacit approval?
We may not be tolerant when it comes to the LGBTQ community, but with sexual harassers it’s, “Give us your letches, your gropers, your huddled masses yearning to let their hands roam free.”
Depressingly, these are the words that scream from the actions—or inaction—of former East Baton Rouge Parish Attorney Lea Anne Batson and her interim replacement Andy Dotson, who needs to be her ex-interim replacement … like yesterday.
What other conclusion can one draw from the saga of Tedrick Knightshead, the parish attorney who no matter what he does—including resign—or how many women he allegedly harasses continues to remain in good standing on the public payroll?
I’m not sure what’s more disgusting: Knightshead sexually harassing a younger, female co-worker in 2016—repeatedly texting her about his desire to see her wear more revealing dresses to work while also requesting she send photographs of her modeling the outfits—or Batson downgrading the charge to “inappropriate communications” and then, more recently, having the report mysteriously disappear into her assistant’s desk once Business Report filed a public records request for the information?
Also in the Knightshead file is a mysterious 2012 disciplinary action when he was suspended without pay for nearly a month. No explanation is given for the suspension and those who do know decline comment.
Yet multiple sources within city-parish government say Knightshead has been the subject of at least two other sexual harassment allegations—one around 2008, where he allegedly made repeated comments about the size of a female co-worker’s breasts—and another last year. Formal complaints, however, were not filed in either instance. The sources say the alleged 2008 victim chose not to pursue the matter, fearing retaliation. In the more recent case, sources confirm Batson talked the woman out of filing a formal complaint.
Knightshead has declined Business Report’s repeated requests for comment.
Stunningly enough, none of this boorish behavior has anything to do with why, in December 2018, Knightshead submitted his resignation as Batson’s first assistant, effective Jan. 31. Knightshead wanted out, according to emails from Batson obtained through a public records request, because the dude couldn’t abide by her office policies—especially one requiring the elimination of conflicts of interest in an attorney’s private practice. In other words, he saw no problem working to defend the police while on the taxpayers’ dime and then turning around to depose that same cop a week later as a private-sector plaintiff’s attorney.
Despite this reprehensible baggage, the first thing Dotson does after replacing Batson, who resigned under fire late last month for unrelated reasons, is ignore Knightshead’s resignation and give him a new job in the parish attorney’s office. And he did this after repeatedly telling Business Report he had zero thought of keeping Knightshead beyond his Jan. 31 resignation date, acting befuddled each time we asked, though two sources within the parish attorney’s office said Dotson had already informed the staff Knightshead would be staying.
Equally outrageous is the repugnant know-nothing, do-nothing response from the very Metro Council members who oversee the parish attorney’s office. Not a single council member who bothered to return a phone call says they have a clue about Knightshead’s sordid past, though councilman Trae Welch did say he unsuccessfully tried to get Knightshead’s personnel file. And Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wilson says if the council believes Batson needed to go then he sees no reason not to do the same with Knightshead.
Sounds nice, but once informed about what’s been happening on their watch, the unanimous response was that any decision on Knightshead is Dotson’s to make. Fair enough, then fire Dotson if he won’t fire Knightshead.
Maybe if Knightshead or Dotson worked for CATS or the Council on Aging—two of the council’s favorite battleground agencies—they’d be more interested in what’s happening on their watch.
What interests councilman Chandler Loupe is not how Knightshead can remain employed, but who’s leaking information to the media. In an email obtained by Business Report, Loupe vows “to spend his remaining two years in office” hunting down the leaker and getting that person or persons fired. To recap Loupe’s view: Sexual harassment isn’t a fireable offense, but going public about a sexual harasser is a gotsta-go situation.
Since Dotson and council members are clearly Google search Luddites, here’s some additional information for these bastions of integrity to ignore: Knightshead had his career as a lawyer delayed in the early 2000s while the state Supreme Court’s Committee on Bar Admissions investigated a “2002 altercation involving” Knightshead “and his former girlfriend.”
There are no details of the incident in the Dec. 12, 2003, decision to grant him conditional admission to the bar—while also requiring him to enter a counseling program—but whatever happened was serious enough for then-Associate Justice Jeffrey P. Victory to dissent, deeming Knightshead unworthy of bar admission.
The report also mentions Knightshead giving “a negative response” to questions about a “disciplinary action by a college or university,” before stating LSU did, in fact, institute a “disciplinary proceeding” against him in 1996.
Let’s take stock of Mr. Knightshead’s behavior with women: there’s an “altercation” with a former girlfriend, one confirmed sexual harassment and, according to multiple sources, two other incidents involving female co-workers where the alleged victims declined to file a formal complaint.
Maybe Knightshead is the victim of some mighty horrific misunderstandings or revenge vendettas. If so, why stay silent?
Speaking of silence, there’s a disconcerting lack of outrage from our city-parish leaders and, for that matter, the general public.
The mayor can profess her love for ExxonMobil after the industrial giant—stunned by being told “no” on two ITEP requests—threatens to take its toys and go home, but she’s silent when “no” doesn’t mean “no” to a top member of the city-parish attorney’s office?
Granted, Baton Rouge tends to be way behind the cultural times but hasn’t anyone here—including various women’s groups—gotten the memo about the #MeToo movement? Is this such a boys-will-be-boys town that sexual harassment continues to be accepted—or at least tolerated—in the workplace?
Baton Rouge can’t work itself into a lather fast enough when it comes to race, yet when the injustice is one of gender our reaction is a collective yawn?
And the people who run this place have the audacity to believe we can lure things here like an Amazon HQ2?
This entire city and parish should be hanging its head in collective shame.
UPDATE: It’s been six days since this column was first published and there has been exactly zero comment or action taken by Mayor Sharon Weston Broome, any member of the Metro Council—which oversees the parish attorney’s office—or any currently employed member of the parish attorney’s office. Moreover, there have been no statements issued by any group that deals with women’s issues or, frankly, any Baton Rouge group that typically rushes to a microphone whenever there’s a controversy…or the chance to stir one up. This only reinforces my point. / JR Ball