When Ronald Greene, 49, was killed after an encounter with Louisiana state troopers in 2019, the authorities originally told his family he died when his car crashed into a tree during a high-speed chase.
That description turned out to be a lie. In reality, Greene was brutalized by the troopers who pulled him over, tased, beaten up, and even dragged. The initial crash report made no reference to a fight with police, but a medical report from an emergency room doctor documented that Greene's injuries included stun-gun prongs in his back. The injuries did not add up. Though official documentation indicates that Greene died of cardiac arrest, it's actually not fully clear how he died, due to the subsequent secrecy from Louisiana State Police about what happened.
Just over two years later, the Associated Press has obtained 46 minutes of body camera footage recorded by one of the state troopers on the scene and has released clips and described the footage.
Greene did apparently lead troopers in a high-speed chase after they attempted to pull him over for an unspecified traffic violation outside Monroe, Louisiana. The chase did end in a crash, but that's not what killed him. The car only suffered some minor body damage. The body camera footage the A.P. released Wednesday shows troopers approaching Greene's car after the crash, and as Greene attempts to tell the troopers that he's scared, they immediately start tasing him. He is forced down to the ground on his stomach, attacked, and tased repeatedly by the troopers even as he wails apologies.
Greene is handcuffed and then left on his stomach for at least nine minutes, something police use-of-force experts interviewed by the A.P. say cops are specifically taught not to do to avoid suffocating someone. The suspect is supposed to be turned to one side or put in a seated position. At one point in the video, Greene attempts to turn himself to his side, but one of the troopers uses his foot to force him back down on his stomach. After Greene's wrists and ankles are shackled, Trooper Kory York drags him briefly along the ground by his ankles.
There is plenty of vicious profanity, threats, and one trooper can be heard saying "I hope this guy ain't got fucking AIDS." The A.P. hasn't posted the entire body camera recording, but they've posted several different clips showing the extent of the abuse.
The A.P. didn't get the video due to a public release of body camera footage from the Louisiana State Police. In fact, the police still refuse to release any body camera footage and responded to the A.P. with a press statement that "premature public release of investigative files and video evidence in this case is not authorized and…undermines the investigative process and compromises the fair and impartial outcome."
That response might have had more credibility had the troopers not initially lied to the family about the circumstances behind Greene's death and if the state hadn't waited 474 days to open an internal administrative investigation to determine what actually happened. Local prosecutors declined to charge the troopers involved with any crimes, but did refer the incident to the Department of Justice, which is independently investigating the circumstances of Greene's death.
The family filed a wrongful death suit in May 2020 (three months before the Louisiana State Police would actually open its own investigation into Greene's death). Last September one of the troopers involved, Master Trooper Chris Hollingsworth, died in a single-car crash just hours after he had been informed he was going to be fired for his role in the incident. After Hollingsworth's death, the A.P. obtained an audio clip of Hollingsworth admitting in a phone conversation with a colleague that he "beat the ever-living fuck out of" Greene. York was suspended without pay for 50 hours.
Note that the discipline came not soon after Greene's death, but after Greene's family started making waves, filing a lawsuit and speaking out to the press about the contradictions in the official story versus what the evidence showed. They were allowed to see the body camera footage of the incident last year, and Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that the footage would be publicly released after the investigation was over.
The entire incident shows why body camera footage can be so valuable. Yes, the emergency room report highlights the suspicious nature of Greene's injuries compared to the official police account, and yes the family was made suspicious when they saw that Greene's car suffered only minor damage from the crash. But absent body camera footage, would anything have come from those suspicions? It took over a year and a lawsuit for the Louisiana State Police to even start investigating its own troopers' behavior.