A couple of Louisiana Democrats under pressure looking for a bounce back after a tough week found out last week the bottom goes deeper.
Amid a burst of criminal activity in New Orleans, Democrat District Atty. Jason Williams caught heat from a news story revealing his office let expire chances for prosecution of arrestees or ability to hold the accused under bail arrangements numbering close to 1,000 in 2021, an increase of more than ten times trends of the preceding few years. Williams, who ran as a “progressive” prosecutor who pledged to prosecute cases more selectively, claimed this failure to review on time came from more intense scrutiny of cases and that only a relatively small portion – 52 out of 885 – involved violent cases.
However, the reporters involved from television station WVUE suspected recordkeeping practices understated the actual number, and upon further review released new figures. The number of suspects let go without consequences instead was 1,524, or nearly 60 percent of all felony arrests last year. Worst of all, that proportion rose to over 60 percent with violent felonies – even with basically two months to charge jailed suspects and five months to decide whether to bring charges for those people out on bail.
Such statistics makes it harder to ignore that this softer approach to crime almost certainly is fueling the startling increases in offenses, up in New Orleans all but one category and essentially doubled in some. It’s something voters statewide should consider when vetting future DA candidates in their jurisdictions.
Yet Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards may have had a worse week. Edwards remains under fire for revelations that he knew almost immediately that the death of black motorist Ronald Greene that he had died in Louisiana State Police custody even as the LSP for months kept covered up that Greene survived a minor car wreck after the LSP chased him, then was beaten.
Monroe media the day Greene died reported on the event, and then days later reported that earwitnesses to it said they heard Greene taken into custody and begging for his life during the assault. A governor’s staff monitors television news throughout the state, so Edwards knew something fishy had gone on incident to the arrest by the middle of May, 2019.
But he did nothing to intervene, likely because he was in the middle of a tough reelection campaign and launching and notifying the public of an investigation referring to this information would have shone light on the fact that the LSP had had many such incidents during his term in office with nothing seemingly done to correct this, especially souring his black voter base on his candidacy. Edwards probably deliberately kept himself in the dark as part of a strategy hoping the incident wouldn’t attract attention.
In a recent news conference, Edwards alleged he didn’t know of any suspected LSP impropriety for well over a year after the event, even though he knew of the district attorney where the crash occurred reviewing it just months later and the investigation shifting to the U.S. Department of Justice, where it is ongoing, He claimed this forwarding meant his actions about it remained unconnected to the looming election, although he surely knew the federal government taking it over meant a resolution was unlikely to come prior to the election and therefore this could ensure news of the incident would remain out of sight and mind until afterwards.
However, the television station WBRZ in Baton Rouge dug deeper in obtaining text messages to Edwards and key staffers with federal and state investigators which showed much more extensive knowledge, and efforts to obtain knowledge, of the event, yet Edwards for two years kept at arm’s length and silent about the slow-walked behind-the-scenes LSP probe that featured efforts to punish whistleblowers, hide evidence, and apparently destroy it. Meanwhile, by the statements of Republican legislative leaders to federal investigators and the media, this summer Edwards discouraged them from conducting their own probe by saying Greene had died in the crash and on a radio program this fall continued to float the idea that the crash in the main caused Greene’s death – even though almost a year earlier he had become aware of recordings of the beating.
Things became worse for Edwards when one of the leaders, House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, announced a bipartisan House select committee to investigate the Greene affair which would include Edwards’ role. And then worse still, when the country’s premier professional organization of black lawyers, the National Bar Association, called for his resignation.
Edwards has maintained that he did nothing to impede any investigation. But covering up also happens when an official intentionally keeps himself uninvolved with, if not engages in distractive behavior relative to, a matter because he fears it will affect negatively his position when his leadership morally is required to right a wrong. The evidence continues to mount that Edwards is guilty of that lapse of duty.