Justice Department opens investigation into Louisiana State Police

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department is opening a sweeping civil rights investigation into the Louisiana State Police amid mounting evidence the agency is accustomed to look away from the beatings of most black men, including the murderous arrest of Ronald Greene in 2019.

The ‘pattern or practice’ federal investigation announced Thursday follows an Associated Press investigation that found Greene’s arrest was among at least a dozen cases over the past decade in which soldiers state police or their bosses ignored or covered up evidence of beatings, deflected blame, and obstructed efforts to root out wrongdoing. Dozens of current and former soldiers said the beatings were encouraged by a culture of impunity, nepotism and, in some cases, outright racism.

“We find significant justification for initiating this investigation now. … We have received reports of repeated use of excessive force, often against persons suspected of minor traffic violations, who are already handcuffed or not not resist,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who oversees the Justice Department’s civil rights division. She added that there were also reports of soldiers targeting black residents as part of the enforcement. of the traffic law and using “racial slurs and racially derogatory terms”.

The federal investigation, the first such action against a statewide law enforcement agency in more than two decades, comes more than three years after white soldiers were captured on video long-restrained body cameraman beating, stunning and dragging Greene on a rural road near Monroe. Despite lengthy ongoing federal and state criminal investigations into death troopers originally charged with a car accident, no one has been charged.

AP reports said soldiers had a habit of turning off or disabling body cameras during chases. When the images are recorded, the agency has systematically refused to release them. And a recently retired supervisor who oversaw a particularly violent clique of soldiers told internal investigators last year that it was his “standard practice” to approve officers’ use-of-force reports without ever reviewing the video of the incident. body camera.

In some cases, soldiers omitted uses of force such as blows to the head from official reports, and in others, soldiers sought to justify their actions by claiming that suspects were violent, resisting, or fleeing. , which was contradicted by video footage.

“This systemic misconduct has been blessed by the top brass of the Louisiana State Police,” said Alanah Odoms, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. She described a “culture of violence, terror and discrimination” within the agency, calling Greene’s death “the tip of the iceberg”.

Clarke said the “pattern or practice” civil inquiry aims to drive needed reforms, if necessary by taking legal action to implement a federal consent decree. She added that Governor John Bel Edwards and Louisiana State Police Chief Lamar Davis have pledged their cooperation. State police did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Black leaders have been urging the Justice Department for months to launch a broader investigation into potential racial profiling by majority-white state police, similar to other investigations opened last year in Minneapolis, Louisville and Phoenix.

By his own count, 67% of state police uses of force in recent years have been against black people, who make up 33% of the state’s population.

The action comes as Edwards prepares to testify before a bipartisan panel of state lawmakers investigating Greene’s death. AP reported last month that the Democratic governor and his attorneys privately viewed video showing Greene taking his last breath during his fatal arrest – footage that only reached prosecutors nearly two years after Greene’s death. on May 10, 2019.

Federal prosecutors are also still investigating whether police chiefs obstructed justice to protect soldiers in the Greene case – and whether they sought to cover up evidence that soldiers beat other motorists black.

State Police Chief at the time of Greene’s arrest, Kevin Reeves, denied the death was a cover-up, but current commanders told lawmakers investigating the state’s response that it was the case. The agency’s own use-of-force expert called what the soldiers did to Greene “torture and murder.”

The AP also found that a former soldier involved in three separate beatings, Jacob Brown, documented 23 uses of force dating back to 2015, 19 of which involved black people. In a case that resulted in federal charges, Brown was seen on body camera video beating Aaron Larry Bowman 18 times with a flashlight after deputies pulled him over for a traffic violation in 2019 State police did not investigate the attack until 536 days later. , and did so only after a trial by Bowman, who was left with a gash to the head and a fractured jaw, ribs and wrist.

“To finish!!!” Bowman’s attorney, Donecia Banks-Miley, said in a text message after hearing about the model or practice probe. “We still need transparency and accountability to help restore the pain that continues to occur with LSP and other law enforcement agencies.”

Elna M. Lemons