Louisiana Governor Denies Cover-up in Killing of Black Man by State Police

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, Pool

Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democratic governor in the deep red state of Louisiana, is facing criticism after it was revealed he received a text message from the head of Louisiana State Police the night of Ronald Greene’s death.

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Greene was brutally beaten by state troopers after a high-speed chase that took them through three parishes. After a crash in Union Parish, Greene was arrested and then beaten to the point that, after Union Parish deputies arrived, Greene became unresponsive. He was later declared dead at the hospital.

We know that he was beaten because the Associated Press obtained and released dashcam footage from the night in question. Until questions started being raised and public records were demanded by the press, state police claimed Greene died as a result of the car crash. The Department of Justice got involved in the case, and it has since become quite the scandal.

On the morning of Greene’s death Governor Edwards received a text say from then-commander of state police, Kevin Reeves, saying

Good morning. An FYI,

Early this morning, troopers attempted to stop a vehicle in Ouachita Parish. The driver fled thru [sic] two parishes in excess of 110 mph, eventually crashing. Troopers attempted to place the driver under arrest. But, a violent, lengthy struggle took place. After some time struggling with the suspect, Troopers were joined by a Union Parish deputy and were able to take the suspect into custody. EMS was summoned to assess the suspect’s injuries. The suspect remained combative but became unresponsive shortly before EMS arrived. The suspect was later pronounced dead at the hospital. We are investigating the suspect’s death.

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This text message was part of another records request by the Associated Press. Edwards’ reply of “Thank you” is seen in this screenshot of the texts.

None of this looks particularly good for Edwards, who was clearly aware from the start that this person, though unnamed in the text, matched the description of the events that became known in the Greene case. Scott McKay at The Hayride breaks down why Edwards has some issues here.

  • Edwards came from a law enforcement background and was thick as thieves with the State Police from the very beginning of his 2015 gubernatorial run – and he even corrupted the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association in order to get their endorsement and money that year. When a scandal broke as a result, Edwards appointed a personal friend and the head of his transition team, trial lawyer and former sate legislator Taylor Townsend, to “investigate” the situation. Townsend whitewashed the whole thing in a fashion reminiscent of a banana republic.
  • Edwards more or less looked the other way as another scandal emerged about then-commander Mike Edmonson and his various scams and crony pilfering the taxpayers’ money. After a short flirtation, the mainstream media mostly let that case drop and Edmonson simply melted away into retirement.
  • Edwards knew by the spring of 2019 that he was going to lose re-election without a massive turnout in the black community. He began greasing black politicians around the state in preparing to build a huge turnout engine, and raising money specifically for the purpose of fueling it.
  • Then a handful of state troopers beat Greene to death on a roadside in Union Parish after he crashed his car into a tree amid a police chase. Greene was probably legally drunk and definitely stupid to flee from police after he ran a red light, but he wasn’t a career criminal. He needed to be arrested and charged with a bunch of things, and probably given a hefty fine and several hundred hours of community service, not to mention losing his driver’s license. Instead, he was turned into a bloody pulp in a 45-minute ordeal while repeatedly begging for his life.
  • The official word went out, even to Greene’s family, that he had died in a car crash. The coverup was extensive, including a suspect autopsy. State Police higher-ups involved in the case were given promotions and other perquisites.
  • Edwards won a close re-election contest with a black vote higher even than Barack Obama managed in Louisiana. The Greene case never even entered the conversation in the campaign.
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That brings us to yesterday’s press conference. Edwards spent a lot of time meeting with Louisiana’s Black Legislative Conference yesterday during the day, then held a press event in the afternoon. He denied any sort of cover-up on his part or any interference in the investigation of the incident. “I’ve never done anything to impede an investigation or prevent justice from being served,” he told those in attendance. “The implication that I knew more and tried to cover it up is simply and categorically false.”

The press event was held a day after Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder called for an investigation and used phrasing similar to Louisiana’s statutory language for impeachment. Edwards dismissed the possibility and insisted that the accusations were “utterly false and baseless.”

Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana (AP/Reuters Feed Library)

But the problem for Edwards isn’t necessarily criminal. They are moral and ethical. The state police claimed Greene’s death was the result of a car crash. Edwards’ office says he did not know about the dashcam footage until October 2020, a half-year before the video became public, but Edwards didn’t have any comment until much later.

It’s not about a criminal cover-up. It is about public responsibility. With state police clearly lying about the incident, the Edwards administration should have had a response. After all, with such massive black voter turnout in 2019, Edwards would not have won re-election without black voters. They make up 60 percent of the Democratic Party’s voter base in Louisiana, and even if that weren’t the case, it’s part of the job of being Governor. You lead state government and you are expected not to allow corruption and a lack of transparency to take root.

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But that’s exactly what happened.

Noticeably absent from the press conference yesterday were any black legislators, all of whom were in Baton Rouge because yesterday also marked the start of the special session for redistricting. As well, Edwards left a meeting with the Black Legislative Caucus to hold the press event. A lack of public support from those politicians is telling.

Perhaps they knew Edwards was not going to show any contrition in this issue. He stood his ground and fought back. There was seemingly no remorse for not having done more.

The key quote comes from Vincent Pierre, the leader of the Black Legislative Conference. Via the USA Today Network:

The governor met with the Legislative Black Caucus before Tuesday’s press conference, where he made his case before them as well.

Legislative Black Caucus Chair Vincent Pierre of Lafayette told USA Today Network members still support the governor, but weren’t satisfied with his handling of the Greene case.

“We do believe he could have handled it much better, especially with communications to the State Police,” Pierre said.

Leading up to the event, neither Pierre nor prominent black legislator Cleo Fields seemed to offer up much support. It could be that, while publicly fighting over a second majority-minority Congressional District, the real negotiations will be more minority districts that wipe out the white Democrats who have run the party for too long without offering much of anything to black voters or politicians. The whispers behind the scenes are that you’ll see maps come out that do exactly that – with the GOP, who runs both the House and Senate, giving their full blessing.

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It was bound to happen, but this scandal appears to give the black Democrats in the legislature all the more reason to go with it.

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