NEW ORLEANS (AP) — No longer waiting for a federal investigation that has so far taken two and a half years, a state prosecutor said Thursday that he intends to pursue his own possible charges against the Louisiana troopers involved in the deadly 2019 arrest of Black motorist Ronald Greene.
Union Parish District Attorney John Belton told a bipartisan legislative committee looking into the case that U.S. Justice Department prosecutors last week dropped their request for him to hold off on a state prosecution until the federal probe is complete.
And he added that Greene’s mother, Mona Hardin, also asked him to independently pursue charges against the troopers who were seen on long-withheld body-camera video swarming her son after a high-speed chase, jolting him with stun guns, punching him the face and dragging him by his ankle shackles as he wailed, “I’m scared! I’m scared!”
“No one is above the law — no one,” Belton told committee members at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge. He added that, based on the evidence, the officers “committed criminal acts, including the violation of Mr. Greene’s civil rights.”
Belton said he is “moving swiftly” to empanel a special grand jury as soon as he collects the most up-to-date evidence from the federal investigation. That includes a reexamined autopsy ordered by the FBI last year that rejected troopers’ initial account that Greene died from injuries suffered in a car crash. It instead attributes Greene’s death to “physical struggle,” troopers repeatedly stunning him, striking him in the head, restraining him at length and Greene’s use of cocaine.
“It is of the utmost importance that the Ronald Greene family and the public as a whole be provided with the complete and truthful answers about what happened to him,” Belton said.
To date, nearly three years after Greene’s May 10, 2019, death along a rural roadside in northeast Louisiana, no one has been criminally charged.
Long shrouded in secrecy and accusations of cover-up, it took 474 days for state police to open an internal inquiry into the case and officials from Gov. John Bel Edwards on down refused to release troopers’ body-camera video for more than two years until The Associated Press obtained and published it last year.
That jump-started the ongoing federal investigation into Greene’s death, which expanded to look into whether state police brass obstructed justice to protect the troopers. One supervisor recently told the legislative committee that his bosses instructed him not to give prosecutors the body-camera footage of Greene’s arrest.
Federal investigators are separately looking into a string of other cases in which troopers are accused of beatings and cover-ups, even when they are caught on video.
Lawmakers in Thursday’s hearing repeatedly expressed frustration at the length of time the federal investigation is taking and the pace at which the state police are seeking answers internally.
State Rep. Tony Bacala, a Republican, appeared particularly upset when the head of the Louisiana State Police, Col. Lamar Davis, said it would likely take several more weeks to complete an internal probe of his second-in-command, Lt. Col. Doug Cain, for having his state cellphone “sanitized” — erased of all data — amid the federal investigation.
“We’re exceeding the speed limit,” Bacala said, “and you all are putting down the road.”
Another tense exchange came when state Rep. Edmond Jordan, a Democrat, questioned Davis about a 120-hour internal suspension given to a lawyer for the state Department of Public Safety, which includes state police, for telling colleagues about her part in an i nternal investigation of state police beatings of Black motorists. That was more than double the 50-hour internal punishment Trooper Kory York received after he was seen on the body-camera video dragging Greene by his ankle shackles.
“It seems the only people disciplined are the people who are trying to do the right thing,” Jordan said. “This is difficult to deal with.”
The legislative probe into “all-levels” of the state’s response to Greene’s death began in February after an AP report that Edwards was informed within hours that troopers arresting Greene had engaged in a “violent, lengthy struggle.” Yet the Democrat stayed mostly silent on the case for two years as state troopers pushed the car crash narrative.
Edwards has said he did not speak out about the troopers’ actions — even after privately watching body-camera footage of the arrest — because he did not want to interfere with the federal investigation. He has since come to describe the actions of the troopers in Greene’s arrest as criminal and racist.