Three years after motorist Ronald Greene died at the hands of Louisiana State Police following a traffic stop, the Department of Justice has announced it will launch a civil rights investigation into the behavior of the department to determine whether officers have been targeting black residents for abusive treatment.
Greene died in 2019 following a high-speed chase with Louisiana State Police outside Monroe. The chase ended with Greene crashing his car. Police told Greene's family that he had died as a result of injuries in the crash. But Greene's family discovered that his car was not seriously damaged, the medical report claimed he died of a heart attack, and a doctor documented that Greene's injuries included prongs from a stun gun in his back, even though police did not say anything about a fight with cops. The family realized that things didn't add up, and the police were not cooperating.
Photos of Greene's body released in 2020 show heavy bruises and lacerations to his head inconsistent with the crash. His family filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit over the mysterious circumstances of Greene's death and federal authorities began an investigation in September of that year.
Much more of the horrible truth came out in May 2021 when somebody leaked Louisiana Police body camera footage to the Associated Press. The footage showed Greene being tasered, beaten, and briefly dragged by police even though he had fully surrendered.
The content of the footage made it all the more disturbing that the Louisiana Police didn't bother with an internal investigation of the incident until 2020 (after the family filed a lawsuit) and local prosecutors declined to press charges. Details of other troubling encounters with state police started coming out as well. Just months after footage of Greene's beating was released, the A.P. was leaked body camera footage showing State Trooper Jacob Brown beating black motorist Aaron Larry Bowman, who had been pulled over for "improper lane usage," with a flashlight.
Brown resigned and was charged with second-degree battery and faces charges in two other excessive force cases. In Greene's case, an officer on the scene, Master Trooper Chris Hollingsworth, died in a single-car crash in 2020 hours after being told he was being fired for his role in Greene's beating.
The Department of Justice is opening a "pattern-or-practice" probe authorized under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which allows the Department of Justice to intervene in cases where local law enforcement agencies have a history of violating the constitutional rights of citizens.
"We find significant justification to investigate whether Louisiana State Police engages in excessive force and engages in racially discriminatory policing against black residents and other people of color," Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said in a prepared statement Thursday.
The end result of the investigation may be a consent decree where the state police accepts federal monitoring and promises to improve its conduct. The Department of Justice under President Joe Biden has entered into five of these consent decrees. The Baton Rouge Advocate notes that this would be the first consent decree in two decades of a state policing force, as the targets are usually cities. New Orleans has been operating under one for the past decade to reform serious police misconduct, and a judge in April said federal oversight there will be phasing out soon due to substantial changes in policing practices.
Clearly, transparency at least is a serious issue with the Louisiana State Police. It's not clear the public would understand the depth of the problems had body camera footage not started leaking out.
Start your day with Reason. Get a daily brief of the most important stories and trends every weekday morning when you subscribe to Reason Roundup.