The increasingly uncomfortable question for Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards – magnified by revelations last week – remains: what did he know about the death of black motorist Ronald Greene, when did he know it, and what did he subsequently do about it?
Greene died at an intersection of highways in Union Parish for no reasonable cause while in custody of Louisiana State Police. Events that unfolded leave little doubt that of a coverup.
From the moment of the May 10, 2019 incident, a pattern was established. The LSP started by claiming Greene died from a crash running from them, although earwitnesses said they could hear Greene at the scene of the arrest begging not to be struck and his autopsy showed death by cardiac arrest with injuries inconsistent with a crash. Over the next two years the LSP at several points walked back elements of that story, driven by leaks of audio and video that supposedly didn’t exist, in the shadow of a federal investigation launched 15 months after his death.
In the interim, Edwards narrowly won reelection because of his gaining most of the black vote. Just after the federal investigation began, Edwards allowed viewing of video that confirmed the beating for Greene’s family after audio leaked of the scene, recorded by a trooper who a year earlier had died in a single-vehicle crash as LSP was on the cusp of firing him. Weeks after the viewing, LSP head Col Kevin Reeves retired, leading Edwards to select as his successor Col. Lamar Davis.
Up until last week, the most trenchant evidence came at just about the two-year anniversary when another leak revealed supposedly lost video from multiple officers at the scene, including one quietly fired. That prompted the LSP to release several, claiming – two years on – it still was in the process of investigating despite the terminations that imply decisions surrounding that had been made over a year earlier. Less than a month later, it said it would form an investigatory task force to study the unit involved in the arrest, Troop F, to determine whether its officers were “systematically targeting black motorists for abuse.”
The federal investigation began because no party Third District Attorney (Union and Lincoln Parishes) John Belton had referred evidence in September, 2019. Belton has considered filing charges against some troopers involved, but right after the latest video leak Davis tried to argue the officers’ actions justified, Associated Press sources said. Almost two years later, that investigation expanded to see whether state officials had attempted to suppress inquiries.
The pattern of events makes it difficult to draw any conclusion other than the LSP had sufficient evidence shortly after the incident to fire, if not refer to Belton or to Republican Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry (who now can’t intervene because he must defend the LSP against a lawsuit filed a year after the events by Greene’s family) for prosecution, several officers. Instead, apparently trying to protect its image and officials involved in stonewalling, it levied discipline quietly and waited 474 days to launch an inquiry, sitting on or failing to pursue relevant evidence until leaks forced its hand, several times.
All the while, Edwards played along, claiming the crash – Greene’s car did have minor damage to it – primarily caused his death. That fig leaf the Federal Bureau of Investigation tore away last week with a report, leaked to the Associated Press, that removed the crash as a factor, citing instead head trauma unrelated to a crash, restraining Greene at length, and Greene’s cocaine use. Chest trauma from vigorous life-saving procedures appeared to explain his cardiac arrest.
The federal investigation chugs along and sooner rather than later will issue a public report that likely will have referrals for prosecution, which may include obstruction of justice charges for LSP administrators. These could go all the way to the top.
And to the Governors’ Mansion. It seems inconceivable that not long after the incident Edwards would not have known at least about the broad parameters of it and how the LSP was handling it. Politically speaking, he had every incentive to keep the matter under wraps, as ensuing bad publicity of white troopers beating a black man to death for no good reason under Edwards’ watch might have poisoned enthusiasm for blacks to vote for his reelection.
At the very least, assuming he remained detached from the controversy, Edwards displayed poor leadership by not inserting himself vigorously to pursue transparent truth-seeking and justice. At the worst, he participated in slow-walking any movement towards the truth and public reckoning, fearing the damage it could do to his political standing. Regardless of what the upcoming report reveals his role to have been, clearly he didn’t distinguish himself and in the process let down Louisiana.