By JIM MUSTIAN | Associated Press | September 21, 2020
A Louisiana state trooper was critically injured early Monday in a single-vehicle highway crash that came hours after learning he would be fired for his role last year in the in-custody death of a Black man.
Master Trooper Chris Hollingsworth received word Sunday that State Police intended to terminate him following an internal investigation into the May 2019 death of Ronald Greene, a case that has drawn mounting scrutiny and become the subject of a federal civil rights investigation.
Authorities initially said Greene died after crashing his vehicle into a tree following a high-speed chase in rural northern Louisiana, but Greene’s family alleges troopers used excessive force and “brutalized” him while taking him into custody.
State Police, despite growing pressure, have repeatedly declined to release body-camera footage and other records related to Greene’s arrest, citing the ongoing investigations.
The crash Monday that critically wounded Hollingsworth happened along Interstate 20 in Monroe shortly before 3 a.m., just hours after the trooper received a letter Sunday of “intent for discipline,” said Capt. Chavez Cammon, a State Police spokesman.
“The intent was to separate him from service and terminate him,” Cammon said.
Cammon declined to say what, exactly, prompted the proposed termination, and it was not clear which policies Hollingsworth was accused of violating. Hollingsworth would have the opportunity to appeal any discipline. His attorney has declined to comment on the case.
Hollingsworth had been placed on paid leave Sept. 9 — the same day The Associated Press filed a records request for body camera footage of Greene’s arrest.
The controversy deepened last week when Greene’s family released graphic photographs showing deep bruises and cuts to his face that raised questions about whether Greene received those injuries in a car crash — as authorities initially told his family — or when troopers arrested him following the police pursuit.
Greene’s family has filed a federal wrongful-death lawsuit alleging troopers “brutalized” Greene, used a stun gun on him three times and “left him beaten, bloodied and in cardiac arrest” before covering up his actual cause of death.
State Police have said only that the 49-year-old Greene died “after resisting arrest and a struggle with troopers” who took him into custody. The agency opened an internal investigation into the case last month.
Greene’s death also remains the subject of a civil rights investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department.
A crash report obtained by the AP says Greene failed to stop for an unspecified traffic violation and later drove off the road and into a ditch, striking a mailbox, a culvert and a “shrub/tree.” The report does not mention any use of force by troopers.
“This case just doesn’t pass the smell test,” said Rafael Goyeneche, a former prosecutor who is president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a New Orleans-based watchdog group. He called for an investigation of “everybody up the chain of command” who had been aware of the agency’s response to Greene’s death.
Col. Kevin Reeves, the State Police superintendent, asked rank-and-file troopers to pray for Hollingsworth, who was listed in critical condition at Ochsner LSU Health in Shreveport.
Reeves wrote a note to troopers Monday, obtained by AP, saying Hollingsworth “was involved in a serious injury crash while off-duty in his personal vehicle.”
State Police brass had convened with the agency’s general counsel in Baton Rouge on Friday to discuss whether Hollingsworth had violated the agency’s use-of-force policy, according to law enforcement officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.