Declaring “no cover-up will be tolerated,” Louisiana’s House speaker announced a bipartisan legislative investigation Thursday into the deadly 2019 arrest of Black motorist Ronald Greene, an inquiry that will examine the state's response at “all levels," from troopers to the governor.
Republican Rep. Clay Schexnayder said he launched the probe in response to an Associated Press report last month that showed Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards was informed within hours that troopers arresting Greene engaged in a “violent, lengthy struggle,” yet he kept quiet for two years as state police told a much different story to the victim’s family and in official reports: that Greene died from a crash after a high-speed chase.
“These events have raised serious questions regarding who knew what and when,” Schexnayder said in a statement. “The actions taken that night and the cryptic decisions and statements made every step of the way since then have eroded public trust."
Edwards, who was in the midst of a tight reelection campaign at the time of Greene’s May 2019 death near Monroe, did not speak out in detail about the case until last May, after the AP obtained and published long-withheld body-camera video showing white troopers jolting Greene with stun guns, punching him in the face and dragging him by his ankle shackles as he wailed, “I’m your brother! I’m scared! I’m scared!”
After decrying the prospect of a legislative probe during a news conference last week as “an absolute witch hunt," Edwards said in a statement Thursday that he now welcomes “any and all legislative oversight.”
“I am certain that any fair and impartial investigation will conclude that I made no attempt to impede or interfere with any investigation into Mr. Greene’s death," the governor said. “Any allegation to the contrary is simply not true."
Edwards' news conference last week marked the first time he characterized the actions of the troopers involved in Greene’s arrest as “racist.” He said he was unaware Greene had been mistreated until September 2020 and did not speak out about the troopers’ actions — even after privately watching the footage — because of an ongoing federal civil rights investigation.
Schexnayder said a new investigative committee made up of four Democrats and four Republicans will begin public hearings in the coming weeks, with Edwards himself among the witnesses likely to be called. Lawmakers are also expected to request a range of documents, including text messages from Edwards that he has yet to release in response to a public records request by AP.
Edwards has denied Schexnayder’s contention in the recent AP report that the governor met with him last June and sought to discourage a legislative inquiry into the case by blaming Greene’s death on a car wreck.
Page Cortez, the Republican Senate president, said he was also at the meeting and recalled the governor making the argument that “nothing nefarious” happened in Greene’s arrest; that Greene “ran into a tree” after a chase; and that no criminal charges were going to be brought in the case. Cortez also backed Schexnayder’s account of the governor saying there was no need for lawmakers to take action.
Cortez said recent events have made clear that lawmakers — and the public — need more information. “The legislature, as a whole, feels like we need to get more answers and be more transparent about what took place,” he said.
“I want to know exactly what happened to make sure the family gets justice,” said state Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, a Baton Rouge Democrat appointed to the committee. “The governor should answer any questions we have but our focus has to be the entire, holistic view of the investigation.”
The legislative action is playing out amid a more than 2-year-old federal civil rights probe into the deadly encounter and whether police brass obstructed justice to protect the troopers who arrested Greene.
An AP investigation found Greene’s death was part of a pattern of state police violence shrouded in secrecy, and among at least a dozen cases over the past decade in which troopers or their bosses ignored or concealed evidence of beatings, deflected blame and impeded efforts to root out misconduct.
In a virtual news conference Thursday, the National Bar Association, which represents more than 66,000 mostly African American lawyers, joined Greene's mother and sister in calling on Edwards to step down over the Greene case.
“My family will never rest because my son was murdered by the Louisiana state troopers and it was condoned," said Greene’s mother, Mona Hardin, adding later, “I’m disgusted that you are allowed to hold the office of governor."
Mustian reported from New York, Bleiberg from Dallas.