Text messages show Gov. Edwards knew of Ronald Greene’s in-custody death, but stayed silent
BATON ROUGE, La. (WVUE) - Text messages obtained by The Associated Press show Louisiana’s governor was informed within hours of the deadly 2019 arrest of Ronald Greene that troopers engaged in “a violent, lengthy struggle” that ended with the Black motorist’s death.
Yet Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards remained publicly quiet as police clung to a much different story: that Greene died from a crash following a high-speed chase. What the governor knew and when have become questions in the federal investigation of Greene’s death.
The governor’s spokesperson says he’s not under investigation and that he’s been tight-lipped to avoid impeding the probe.
Edwards received word of the Greene case in a text from then-Louisiana State Police Superintendent Kevin Reeves on May 10, 2019 at 10 a.m., about nine hours after the deadly arrest.
“Good morning. An FYI,” the message read. “Early this morning, troopers attempted to stop a vehicle in Ouachita Parish. The driver fled thru 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. ... The suspect remained combative but became unresponsive shortly before EMS arrived.”
The explanation given to Edwards, which his spokesperson called a “standard notification,” was far different from what Greene’s family says they were being told by troopers at almost the same time -- that the 49-year-old died on impact in a car crash at the end of a chase. A coroner’s report that day indicates Greene was killed in a motor vehicle accident and a state police crash report makes no mention of troopers using force.
Reeves ended his text by telling the governor that the man’s death was under investigation.
“Thank you,” Edwards responded.
A reexamined autopsy ordered by the FBI confirmed what his family suspected the moment they saw his bruised and battered corpse and his car with only slight damage: a minor crash at the end of a high-speed chase had nothing to do with his death. The review, which did not involve another examination of the body, attributes Greene’s death to a series of factors, including troopers repeatedly stunning him, striking him in the head, restraining him at length, and his use of cocaine.
Greene’s mother, Mona Hardin, says she wants those who knew about the incident prosecuted and new procedures put in place to save lives in the future.
Two troopers, Dakota Morse and George Harper, were fired in June 2021 after video of the beating was released. Master Trooper Chris Hollingsworth, who was recorded saying he “beat the ever-living f--- out of” Greene, died in a car crash in 2020 soon after learning he would lose his job.
No one has yet been charged with a crime in Greene’s death.
Greene’s death came after he failed to stop for a traffic violation and led troopers on a midnight chase across northern Louisiana at speeds topping 115 mph (185 km/h), ending along a rural roadside near Monroe. State police initially told Greene’s family he died after crashing into a tree, an account the Union Parish coroner committed to writing in an official report, which describes Greene’s death as a motor vehicle accident and makes no mention of a confrontation with troopers.
After officials refused to release the troopers’ body camera video for more than two years, the Associated Press obtained and published it last spring, showing white troopers converging on Greene before he can even get out of his car, repeatedly stunning and punching him as he appears to surrender and repeatedly wails, “I’m your brother! I’m scared! I’m scared!” A trooper can later be seen dragging the heavyset Greene by his ankle shackles and he is left prone and face down in the dirt for more than nine minutes before he eventually goes limp.
Edwards then condemned the troopers, calling their actions “deeply unprofessional and incredibly disturbing.”
“I am disappointed in them and in any officer who stood by and did not intervene,” the governor said in a statement. He later called the troopers’ actions “criminal.”
“What happened to Ronald Greene was a travesty, but what we heard here today gives me no confidence that this system can’t produce another one and that’s problematic,” said Eugene Collins, the president of the Baton Rouge chapter of La. NAACP.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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