Where were the ‘good’ police when Ronald Greene was being brutalized? | Jarvis DeBerry

May 28, 2021 12:26 pm
Special committee wants Gov. Edwards' text messages in Greene case

In this file photo from Aug. 28, 2020, family members of Ronald Greene listen to speakers as they gather at the Lincoln Memorial for the 57th anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech at the same location. . Greene died in police custody following a high-speed chase in Louisiana in 2019. (File photo Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images)

During a May 11 debate on the floor of the Louisiana House of Representatives over a bill that would make it easier to sue bad police officers, Rep. Denise Marcelle (D-Baton Rouge), a supporter of the bill, said that about 99.9% of police officers are good. 

Marcelle was reiterating a point that had previously been made by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Edmond Jordan (D- Baton Rouge) that his bill would not threaten many law enforcement careers. In fact, Jordan introduced his legislation by calling it “a small bill that deals with civil liability.”

Given the conservative leanings of the Legislature, perhaps Jordan’s approach makes sense. And it’s probably the case that we shouldn’t take Marcelle (or anybody else) literally when they use “99.9%” to make a point.  

But the language stood out because Jordan’s bill emerged from a task force that was formed to address the systems that allow police misconduct to flourish. And there’d have been no need for a task force if only one officer in a thousand were bad.

There’s no way to reconcile a belief that 99.9% of officers are good with a leaked video published by The Associated Press that shows multiple officers with the Louisiana State Police brutalizing Ronald Greene in May 2019. State Police said then that Greene, who led them on a high-speed chase, died on impact when he crashed his car.

He did not.

“I’m your brother! I’m scared! I’m scared!” Greene says after the chase as troopers shock him with a stun gun. Later, as the troopers are continuing to jolt him, the 49-year-old screams, “I’m sorry!”  

The video shows Greene, with his ankles shackled and his hands shackled behind his back being dragged facedown by a trooper. Near the end of the 46-minute video, he’s bleeding and limp and being placed into an ambulance.

As The Associated Press reported in October, after troopers told an emergency room doctor in West Monroe that Greene died when he crashed into a tree, the doctor wrote in a report: “Does not add up.”

Those officers had to come up with a different story — maybe because two stun gun probes were still in Greene’s back when he arrived at the hospital? They eventually told the doctor that Greene had fought with troopers and they’d stunned him three times.

“We want every trooper involved in this incident to be terminated immediately,” Judy Reese Morse, the president of the Urban League of Louisiana, said at a rally on the steps of the Louisiana Capitol Thursday afternoon. “And then after the terminations, we want every single trooper involved in this incident to be arrested, and then we want them to be charged.”

That word “every” is important. Because the abuse inflicted upon Greene was not the work of one officer. Col. Lamar Davis, who was named head of the Louisiana State Police almost 18 months after Greene’s death, probably wishes it were the work of one person because then the case would effectively be closed. Trooper Christopher Hollingsworth, who’s recorded telling another trooper “I beat the ever-living f— out of (Greene),” died in a single-car crash soon after he was fired for his actions in Greene’s case.

But, as Morse said, he shouldn’t be the only one held accountable. One officer was suspended 50 hours, State Police have said. Trooper Dakota DeMoss was arrested on suspicion of brutality in a separate case.

Louisianians who see Greene being brutalized may think back to the Sunday after Hurricane Katrina when New Orleans police unleashed a bloodbath on innocent pedestrians crossing Danziger Bridge. While few of the details are similar, in both cases, “good officers” stayed quiet about what bad officers had done. 

And both initial police reports were false or misleading. The New Orleans Police Department claimed officers had taken gunfire. The initial “State Police crash report,” the AP reports, “omits any mention of troopers using force or even taking Greene into custody.”

This isn’t just a Louisiana problem. Derek Chauvin, then a Minneapolis police officer, killed George Floyd by keeping his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes, but the department’s initial statement said that after Floyd was handcuffed “he appeared to be suffering medical distress.” The Louisiana Legislature responded to Floyd’s murder by creating the task force out of which came Jordan’s bill.

If Jordan has to assert that bad officers are extremely rare, so be it, but they’re more common than lawmakers on either side are letting on.

If you’re struggling to believe that, ask yourself, why didn’t a good officer step in to stop Greene from being brutalized?

  • This column was updated to reflect that Louisiana State Police Superintendent Lamar Davis’ rank changed from captain to colonel when he was chosen to lead the agency.

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Jarvis DeBerry
Jarvis DeBerry

Jarvis DeBerry, former editor of the Louisiana Illuminator, spent 22 years at The Times-Picayune (and later as a crime and courts reporter, an editorial writer, columnist and deputy opinions editor. He was on the team of Times-Picayune journalists awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service after that team’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the deadly flood that followed. In addition to the shared Pulitzer, DeBerry has won awards from the Louisiana Bar Association for best trial coverage and awards from the New Orleans Press Club, the Louisiana/ Mississippi Associated Press and the National Association of Black Journalists for his columns. A collection of his Times-Picayune columns, “I Feel to Believe” was published by the University of New Orleans Press in September 2020.