By Mike Perlstein | WWL-TV | August 26, 2021
NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana State Police Trooper Carl Cavalier said he was on assignment at the COVID field hospital at the New Orleans Convention Center in early 2020 when he first heard about a violent arrest by fellow troopers in North Louisiana in which the suspect died in custody.
He was told about the graphic and disturbing body camera video that captured Ronald Greene practically begging for his life as he was shocked with a stun gun, beaten and dragged while in handcuffs and shackles.
“An investigator who had knowledge of the case and who also viewed the video early on before anyone else and was speaking about how gruesome the video was,” Cavalier said in an interview.
Cavalier was a narcotics officer in Baton Rouge at the time, but he said he couldn’t get the case out of his head, so he began asking questions. What he heard only made him more alarmed.
“I guess it created like a shock to me, created like a level of disappointment that I’m still recovering from now. The fact that these guys are actively covering up a murder,” he said.
While reports about the 2019 death of Ronald Greene circulated inside the ranks of state police, the public was kept in the dark until the body cam video was obtained by the Associated Press in May of this year. The video shows officers from Troop F in Monroe manhandling the screaming, moaning and bleeding suspect until he turned limp and died.
For Cavalier, a Bridge City native and graduate of John Ehret High School, he saw a victim who looked like him.
“It could happen to anyone, my family member, your family member. I just want the right thing to be done,” he said.
Published while the country was still reeling from images of George Floyd being murdered under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, the video of Ronald Greene’s death made national news overnight. But the initial state police response was to blast the leak as unauthorized amid ongoing federal and state investigations.
Cavalier saw something very different.
“There are killers,” he said, “and there are people who are OK with the killers being on the job. And that’s the people who are a part of the cover-up.”
Days after Greene’s story broke, the State Police reversed their position and released additional video. But to Cavalier, that only raised more questions about why it took 474 days before the agency to launch an investigation that he had heard about much earlier.
“I considered it a murder,” Cavalier said. “Because why else would we hesitate to be transparent about it? Why else would we not do our jobs and hold these guys accountable? Why else? What other reason?”
Since then, federal and internal scrutiny that started with the Greene case has expanded to include other allegations of excessive force, both in Troop F and elsewhere. Some of the troopers involved in Greene’s death have been fired and criminally charged in other cases.
In one of those cases, the Associated Press published a video Wednesday of a North Louisiana man, Aaron Bowman, being beaten repeatedly with a flashlight after a traffic stop near his home in Monroe. Former trooper Jacob Brown was previously booked with battery and malfeasance in that case.
In a video interview accompanying the AP story, Bowman breaks down trying to talk about the encounter that led to his broken jaw, ribs, wrist and head gash requiring six staples.
“Watching it, I broke down all over again. I wouldn’t want anyone to go through that,” Bowman said through tears.
Cavalier said he had been aware of the Bowman body cam video for months, as well as others like it that haven’t been released to the public.
“There were still videos that haven’t been released, you know, still videos that still remain under lock and key,” Cavalier said.
Despite knowledge of the Bowman video within the State Police ranks, it took more than a year-and-a-half for internal affairs to investigate, according to the AP. To Cavalier, that raises serious questions about those higher in the chain of command who have yet to face any repercussions.
For example, in the Greene case, as exposed previously by WWL-TV, the highest-ranking officer who responded to that chase, 31-year veteran Lt. John Clary, has faced no discipline despite multiple accounts that he lied about having body camera footage.
“This isn’t right,” Cavalier said. “You guys shouldn’t be awarded a pat on the back for your silence.”
Cavalier decided not to remain silent.
Going against department policy, the trooper did an interview with WBRZ in Baton Rouge in June. For that, he said he received a warning letter. Then in July, he appeared on the New Orleans radio station WBOK.
In one portion of the hour-long radio segment, host Sally-Ann Roberts asked him, “Is there something in the atmosphere of the State Police Department that needs to be corrected?”
“Yeah, there’s a toxic brotherhood,” Cavalier answers “I don’t know if I should call it a brotherhood, but it’s a toxic brotherhood bleeding blue.”
On Aug. 2, shortly after his radio appearance, Cavalier was placed on paid administrative leave. This disciplinary letter he received outlines that the trooper is being investigated for potential violations of loyalty, making public statements and not following orders.
Cavalier is now concerned that his role as a whistle-blower will cost him his career.
“I don’t know for sure what’s going to happen with me,” he said, “but I can assume that I think they’ll find a way to terminate me.”
As Cavalier continues to speak out in search of accountability, he has been joined by others demanding action.
Judy Reese Morse, president of the Urban League of Louisiana, applauds Cavalier and anyone else who helps bring attention to instances of excessive force that remained hidden for years.
“We are pleased to learn that there are individuals who are willing to put themselves out to make sure that the truth comes out, that there is accountability and transparency, but there still must be that systemic review,” Morse said.
Morse said her organization not only wants to see a resolution in the Ronald Greene case, but the culture that allowed his violent arrest and others like it to happen remains hidden and fester without consequences for the troopers.
“The entire department should be looked at, from top to bottom and from side to side,” she said.
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the non-profit watchdog group the Metropolitan Crime Commission, also has been following the case closely.
“I think it’s a safe assumption to say that other troopers feel the same way as Trooper Cavalier feels, but rather than go on the radio they may be cooperating with law enforcement,” Goyeneche said.
Cavalier said he remains loyal to the State Police and his job as a trooper. But he said another loyalty ranks even higher.
“Just being a decent human being,” he said. “Just being a decent human being that that drives me. That was driving me at a time that’s driving me now.”
A State Police spokesman offered this statement about the ongoing investigations:
“As the investigation into the death of Ronald Greene remains under review by federal and state authorities, LSP continues to offer our full cooperation. Although the ongoing investigation prevents the release of further information, LSP fully intends to release all available documents and investigative files at the appropriate time.
As the department awaits the findings of the federal investigation, the men and women of the Department of Public Safety remain dedicated to professional public service across our state.”
The agency added this comment from State Police Superintendent Col. Lamar Davis:
“Over the last nine months, our agency has carefully evaluated and examined our processes and operational practices, which led to fundamental improvements to our operations, training, and administration. These improvements and reforms affect every aspect of our department and are made possible by the dedicated efforts of our personnel. While the process is ongoing and there is much work to be done, I am extremely proud of our collaborative work to change our internal culture, promote leadership at all levels, and place focus on investing in our communities. We remain committed to the reform process by continuing coordination and community engagement with the many diverse populations throughout our state. Through this partnership, we will ensure the implementation of critical changes and the building of trust within the communities we serve.”