NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Under increasing pressure from lawmakers, the head of the Louisiana State Police put his second-in-command on leave Friday while he faces an internal probe into the erasing of his cellphone data amid the investigation into the deadly 2019 arrest of Black motorist Ronald Greene.
Superintendent Col. Lamar Davis released a statement saying he placed Lt. Col. Doug Cain on paid administrative leave “to eliminate any questions into the integrity of the investigation.”
Cain was among three top state police officials who had their cellphones “sanitized” amid the ongoing probes into Greene’s death, which troopers initially blamed on a car crash at the end of a high-speed chase. But long-withheld body-camera video published by The Associated Press last year instead showed white troopers stunning, punching and dragging Greene as he wailed, “I’m your brother! I’m scared! I’m scared!”
Cain’s refusal to answer questions about the wiping and the fact that he was staying on the job amid the probe frustrated and angered members of a bipartisan legislative committee that has been conducting hearings into the state’s response to Greene’s death and whether there was a cover-up.
“This is an attempt to not be transparent. ... If we trusted you we wouldn’t be here right now,” state Rep. Tanner Magee, the Republican chairman of the committee, told Cain in a hearing last month.
“I have nothing to hide,” Cain said. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Davis added to the committee’s frustration in a hearing Thursday, telling the panel that the internal probe into Cain’s phone would take several more weeks to complete, and that investigators have yet to interview Cain because “we want to interview everybody else in that process first to make sure we get as much information as possible.”
Magee questioned why it has to be so complicated, saying it should boil down to simple questions: “What’s on the phone and why’d you do it?”
“I do believe in due process, but I do believe that he should be on administrative leave,” said Rep. Denise Marcelle, a Baton Rouge Democrat.
State police have acknowledged that the department also “sanitized” the cellphone of the former head of the agency, Col. Kevin Reeves, after he abruptly retired in 2020 amid AP’s initial reporting on Greene’s death. The agency said it did the same to the phone of another former police commander, Mike Noel, who resigned from a regulatory post last year as he was set to be questioned about the case by lawmakers. Police have said such erasures are policy.
Nearly three years after Greene’s May 10, 2019, death along a rural roadside in northeast Louisiana, no one has been criminally charged.
A federal civil rights investigation into the case has gone on for two and a half years, looking not only at the troopers but whether top brass obstructed justice to protect the officers from prosecution. One supervisor recently told the legislative committee that his bosses instructed him not to give prosecutors the body-camera footage of Greene’s arrest.
Probes have also expanded into a string of other state police beatings of mostly Black motorists. An AP investigation last year found Greene’s was among at least a dozen cases over the past decade in which state police troopers or their bosses ignored or concealed evidence of beatings, deflected blame and impeded efforts to root out misconduct.
Union Parish District Attorney John Belton told the legislative committee Thursday that U.S. Justice Department prosecutors have dropped their request for him to hold off on a state prosecution until the federal investigation is complete. He says he is now “moving swiftly” to empanel a special grand jury to pursue possible state charges in the Greene case.
The legislative committee was convened in February after an AP report showed Gov. John Bel Edwards was informed 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 told Greene’s family and wrote in reports that he died as the result of a car crash. He has since come to describe the actions of the troopers in Greene’s arrest as criminal and racist.