By Wesley Muller | Louisiana Illuminator | September 16, 2021
In a radio interview Wednesday, Gov. John Bel Edwards downplayed reports that Louisiana State Police troopers engaged in an attempted cover-up of the 2019 death of Ronald Greene, saying many of the cover-up allegations are “overblown or just false.”
“Sometimes the media is incomplete in the way it portrays things, and tends toward the sensational,” Edwards said. “That is not to say that everything that has happened has been exactly right because it hasn’t.”
“I think there was excess brutality shown to Mr. Greene. There is just no reason for that,” the governor said. “But the cover-up part of it, much of that is overblown or just false.”
The governor was asked about the Greene case during his monthly call-in radio show, in which he answers questions from the public. Greene died in State Police custody following a car chase with troopers outside of Monroe.
Troopers said for over a year that the 49-year-old Black man died from injuries suffered in a car wreck, but the Associated Press split the case open when they obtained and published body-camera footage showing troopers beating, choking, and using a stun gun on Greene. The body camera footage also shows the troopers, who are White, spraying him in the face with pepper spray and dragging him by his leg shackles face down over pavement.
Since breaking that news, the AP has revealed other aspects of the case that call into question the State Police’s handling of the case. In May the AP reported that the ranking trooper on the scene, Lt. John Clary, falsely told internal investigators that Greene was still a threat to flee after he was shackled, and Clary denied the existence of his own body camera video for nearly two years until it emerged last April.
In an internal affairs document obtained by the AP, a detective wrote that Clary’s 30-minute-long body-camera footage does not show Greene resisting, trying to flee or even raising his voice. or trying to get away. It shows Greene “lying on the ground, face down, handcuffed behind his back, leg shackles on his ankles, uttering the phrases, ‘I’m sorry’, or ‘I’m scared’ or ‘Yes sir’ or ‘Okay.”
In his radio interview, Edwards described the way Greene was treated by officers as “really criminal,” but pushed back repeatedly on notions that state troopers might have engaged in a widespread coverup of the incident.
“Part of the things that are being called a coverup really are not,” Edwards said. “For example, the district attorney and the U.S. Department of Justice asked that the videos in the Ronald Greene matter not be shown to the public. It would compromise the investigation that they’re doing and potentially adversely impact a decision whether to prosecute. So if you have that from the DA and the U.S. DOJ, then you don’t go out and show the video to the public. But by not showing the video to the public you get accused that you’re trying to cover it up.”
Earlier this year, Edwards allowed Greene’s family and members of the Legislative Black Caucus to view some of the footage privately. Since then many of the videos the state has released came only after the AP obtained and published them.
Edwards said the investigation is still working to determine Greene’s cause of death. The statements made by troopers that Greene died from injuries suffered in a car wreck have yet to be proven false, he said.
“The issue would be did he die from injuries sustained in the accident?” Edwards said. “Obviously he didn’t die in the accident itself because he was still alive when the troopers were engaging with him. But what was the cause of death? I don’t know that that was falsely portrayed.”
Federal authorities have taken the unusual step of ordering a new autopsy of Greene, but the original autopsy of his body was inconclusive about whether his most severe injuries were caused by a car crash or being repeatedly hit by the troopers, according to the Associated Press.
Since the news reports of the case broke in 2019, the FBI has launched a civil rights investigation and the U.S. Justice Department is looking into whether State Police leaders obstructed justice.
In an interview with the Illuminator, Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Louisiana police watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission, said the governor is not privy to the details of those inquiries.
“The information that he is getting is probably coming from the State Police, which is the subject of the investigation,” Goyeneche said. “My advice to the public is to take what the governor is saying with a few grains of salt.”
State Rep. Ted James (D-Baton Rouge), who serves as chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus — a close ally of Edwards — said he was disappointed to hear the governor downplayed a cover-up in the case.
“It’s clear everywhere else across the state that the State Police did everything to try to conceal and hide the truth,” James said.
James said the cover-up allegations didn’t just arise when the agency withheld videos from the public. Troopers told Greene’s family that he died on impact in the wreck, concealed body-camera footage and lied to internal affairs investigators, he said.
In an attempt to regain public trust in the agency, State Police Superintendent Col. Lamar Davis held a press conference last week to highlight some police reforms.
But James said he has zero confidence in the agency.
“I’m very disappointed that the governor doesn’t see this as a cover-up,” James said. “Ray Charles could have seen this is a cover-up. It’s glaring.”