Within days of the deadly 2019 arrest of Ronald Greene, when body-camera video captured white troopers stunning, beating and dragging the Black motorist, the head of the Louisiana State Police wrote a stark note about the case in his journal: “Realize there is a problem — must address immediately.”
But well over a year went by — 462 days to be exact — before Col. Kevin Reeves opened an internal investigation into the actions of the troopers involved, including one who was recorded boasting he “beat the ever-living f—- out of” Greene.
Eleven pages from Reeves’ three journals were released Thursday in response to a subpoena from a legislative committee looking into a possible cover-up of the case. And the panel’s chairman says the troubling questions raised by those few pages were enough to demand that Reeves comply by turning over all his journals, with a threat of contempt charges if he doesn’t.
“The documents themselves show that Colonel Reeves knew early on that there was an issue and considered possible measures to address it but ultimately didn’t,” Republican state Rep. Tanner Magee said. “This committee has sought to figure out why.”
While the handwritten pages are in places difficult to decipher, a page of notes dated just 12 days after Greene’s death are clear, a to-do list of possible actions in response to the case: suspending officers or putting them on administrative leave, opening up an internal probe and conducting a video audit of Master Trooper Chris Hollingsworth, who boasted of beating Greene and had a history of turning off his body-camera video.
Reeves, who described Greene’s death as “awful but lawful” and stepped down in late 2020 amid criticism, has sought to downplay his own involvement in the case.
His attorney, Lewis Unglesby, said the delays in the Greene case “are not at the foot at all of Kevin Reeves,” saying it fell to his subordinates to get to the bottom of what happened. “There’s a difference between ‘This is what I want y’all to do’ and ‘I’m going to do it.’″
Greene’s May 10, 2019, death has been shrouded in secrecy and accusations of cover-up from the beginning, when authorities told grieving relatives and put in initial reports that the 49-year-old died in a car crash at the end of a high-speed chase near Monroe.
The Associated Press last year obtained long withheld body-camera video that showed what really happened: Troopers swarming Greene’s car, stunning him repeatedly, punching him in the head, dragging him by his ankle shackles and leaving him prone on the ground for more than nine minutes. At times, Greene could be heard pleading for mercy and wailing, “I’m your brother! I’m scared! I’m scared.”
Coming up on the three-year anniversary of Greene’s death, still no charges have been filed in the case despite a federal civil rights investigation, a separate state criminal probe and the legislative investigation.
The bipartisan legislative committee formed in February in response to an AP report that Reeves informed Gov. John Bel Edwards within hours that troopers arresting Greene had engaged in a “violent, lengthy struggle.” Yet the Democrat stayed mostly silent on the case for two years as state troopers continued to raise the car crash theory, which was later debunked by a new autopsy commissioned by the FBI.
The governor has said that he held off on speaking out about the troopers’ actions — even after privately watching graphic body camera footage of the arrest — because of the ongoing federal investigation. He’s since called the actions of the troopers involved criminal and racist.
For weeks, the eight-member legislative panel has been interviewing state police and other officials in a bid to reconstruct the agency’s handling of the case. Last week, one senior state police official told lawmakers he was “mystified” that no troopers have yet faced criminal charges. Another ranking official described Greene’s fatal arrest as “a complete disregard for the sanctity of human life.”
Lawmakers have said they intend to investigate what Edwards knew and when he knew it, but no one on his staff has yet been called to testify.