By Jim Mustian/Associated Press | WWL-TV | May 24, 2021
NEW ORLEANS — In perhaps the strongest evidence yet of an attempted cover-up in the deadly 2019 arrest of Ronald Greene, the ranking Louisiana State Police officer at the scene falsely told internal investigators that the Black man was still a threat to flee after he was shackled, and he denied the existence of his own body camera video for nearly two years until it emerged just last month.
New state police documents obtained by The Associated Press show numerous inconsistencies between Lt. John Clary’s statements to detectives and the body camera footage he denied having. They add to growing evidence of obfuscation in Greene’s death, which the white troopers initially blamed on a car crash at the end of a high-speed chase and is now the subject of a federal civil rights investigation.
The highly secretive case has drawn national attention since last week, when the AP began publishing graphic body camera videos that showed troopers repeatedly jolting Greene with stun guns, putting him in a chokehold, punching him and dragging him by his ankle shackles. And like George Floyd’s death a year ago, it once again highlighted the importance of video as key evidence in police misconduct cases.
“Video doesn’t lie, and the best way to protect the integrity of law enforcement agencies is with body camera footage,” said Rafael Goyeneche, a former prosecutor who is president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a New Orleans-based watchdog group.
But Clary, the highest-ranking officer among at least six state troopers at the scene of Greene’s May 10, 2019, arrest, told investigators later that day that he had no body camera footage of the incident — a statement proven to be untrue when his 30-minute body camera video of the arrest emerged last month.
Clary, who arrived at the scene just seconds after troopers stunned, choked and punched Greene to get him into handcuffs, told investigators that Greene “was still, yelling and screaming … and he was still resisting, even though he was handcuffed. He was still trying to get away and was not cooperating.”
Investigators wrote in a six-page report filed less than three weeks ago that Clary’s description of Greene’s demeanor after he was was cuffed on a dark roadside near Monroe was clearly a mischaracterization. Though they did not state it explicitly, the false statements were apparently intended to justify further uses of force by troopers against the prone Greene that included dragging him facedown by his ankle shackles and spraying him in the face with pepper spray.
“The video evidence in this case does not show Greene screaming, resisting or trying to get away,” Detective Albert Paxton wrote in the new report. “The only screams revealed by the video were when Greene responded to force applied to him.”
The report added that Clary’s own video, published last week by the AP and later released by the state, 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.’’’
Clary’s video shows troopers ordering the heavyset, 49-year-old Greene to remain facedown on the ground with his hands and feet restrained for more than nine minutes — a tactic use-of-force experts criticized as dangerous and likely to have restricted his breathing. Greene can be seen on Clary’s footage struggling to prop himself up on his side.
“Don’t you turn over! Lay on your belly! Lay on your belly!” Trooper Kory York yells before briefly dragging Greene by the chain that connects his ankle shackles.
“Lt. Clary’s video clearly shows Greene to be suffering,” Paxton wrote in the new report, adding that the handcuffed man can be heard “gasping for air.”
Though what happens to Greene next cannot be seen on the video, investigators wrote that “Greene’s eyes are squeezed shut as he shakes his head back and forth moaning in pain, movements consistent with having been sprayed in the face with (pepper) spray.”
The records noted that around this time Trooper York asked Greene if he has his attention now and a local deputy assisting in the arrest added, “Yeah, that sh– hurts, doesn’t’ it?”
Another false statement noted in the report was when Clary told investigators that his troopers sat Greene up and “immediately held his head up so he could get a clear airway.”
Clary’s video, however, showed troopers saying they didn’t want to sit Greene up because they were afraid he would spit blood on them.
“Then don’t do that,” Clary tells them.
Even after Greene became unresponsive and troopers sat him up, his head was slumped down on his chest and they did not make a move to lift his head to make a clear airway for nearly six minutes.
“The officers have the duty and obligation to ensure that he is capable of breathing … and they chose not to do that,” said Andrew Scott, a former Boca Raton, Florida, police chief who testifies as an expert in use-of-force cases.
“When he was in handcuffs, he was completely compliant. The only thing he wanted to do was turn over onto his side,” Scott added. “He couldn’t resist. He was incapable of resisting.”
Clary, who has been with the Louisiana State Police for 31 years, did not return phone and text messages seeking comment Monday. A State Police spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Clary cannot claim he was unaware his body camera was recording, the investigators noted, citing a moment on his video when he points to his own camera in an apparent warning to one of his troopers at the scene of Greene’s arrest. At another point, the records say, a trooper “pointed out that Lt. Clary’s body camera was recording, causing Lt. Clary to immediately turn it off.”
The concealed video is only the latest anomaly in the law enforcement response to Greene’s death. Troopers initially told Greene’s family he died in a car crash, and later the state police issued a brief statement acknowledging there was a struggle with officers and that Greene died on the way to the hospital. There was no mention made of any use of force by troopers.
State police also did not open an administrative investigation into the troopers’ use of force until 474 days after Greene’s death. And Louisiana officials from Gov. John Bel Edwards on down repeatedly refused to publicly release any body camera video of Greene’s arrest for more than two years, until last week after AP began publishing videos it obtained.
The AP last week also obtained a 10-page autopsy report that shows state police failed to turn over to forensic pathologists even the most routine documents relating to Greene’s arrest, including police reports, collision details or emergency medical records.
“The lack of transparency reeks of a potential cover up,” Goyeneche said. “If the Louisiana State Police were vigilant and on top of its game, there would have been discipline and terminations years ago in this case.”