Rep. Ted James (D-Baton Rouge) speaks at a news conference for the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus on Tuesday, July 6, 2021. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)
Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus leaders announced Tuesday that they will be sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice to request a “top-to-bottom” investigation of Louisiana State Police following a series of high-profile beatings of Black motorists and alleged coverups within the state’s top law enforcement agency, Rep. Ted James, the Baton Rouge Democrat who leads the caucus, said.
“Folks need to be arrested,” James said at Tuesday’s news conference, referring to the troopers involved in those incidents. “And that’s one of the reasons we need the feds to come in.”
In June, the ACLU of Louisiana called on federal authorities to launch a “pattern or practice” investigation into misconduct by state troopers. The group cited “growing concern over LSP’s pattern of targeting and using objectively unreasonable force against Black people, which the office then goes to great lengths to conceal.”
Black Caucus leaders repeated those same concerns and joined the ACLU in requesting a “pattern or practice” investigation. James said the probe would look for any constitutional violations and cover a wide range of issues and personnel — not just those connected to the incidents involving Ronald Greene and Aaron Bowman.
In May 2019, troopers in Troop F pulled over the 49-year-old Greene during a vehicle pursuit in Monroe. Body camera and dashboard camera footage leaked to the Associated Press show the White troopers kicking, dragging and using stun guns on Greene, a Black man, while he was prone and handcuffed. Troopers initially told Greene’s family that he died on impact after crashing his car, according to the AP report that broke the story.
Weeks later, state police investigators determined that Jacob Brown, a trooper from Troop F, struck 46-year-old Bowman 18 times in the head with a reinforced tactical flashlight.
Louisiana State Police has been conducting internal investigations into both incidents, but so far, only Brown has been arrested on state charges.
A federal “pattern or practice” investigation can often result in a federal consent decree, like the one to reform the Orleans Parish Prison. Justice Department officials have launched similar investigations in Minneapolis, Louisville and elsewhere since Attorney General Merrick Garland took the helm under President Joe Biden.
James said he notified Gov. John Bel Edwards and top state police administrators of the letter prior to Tuesday’s news conference. He would not say whether they expressed support for such a full-scale investigation.
He added that he believes the agency’s new superintendent, Col. Lamar Davis, who is Black, has so far done a good job reforming the agency but that “there are rules and laws in place that prevent him from questioning certain individuals who need to be questioned.”
James was referring to State Police Commission protections that troopers have barring certain reviews and disciplinary measures similar to the protections that municipal police officers have under Louisiana’s so-called “police officer bill of rights.” Internal investigators cannot question troopers without advance notice and not before they’re given time to secure an attorney. Furthermore, among other protections, any statements made during an administrative internal investigation cannot be used against the trooper in a criminal proceeding.
Gov. Edwards’ spokesperson Christina Stephens released the following statement to the Illuminator:
“The Governor enjoys a strong working relationship with members of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus and was aware of their planned request in advance. He also believes that they have reasonable concerns that need to be addressed. We all agree that all law enforcement officers, including Louisiana State Police troopers, should act professionally, respectfully and in accordance with their sworn duty to protect all Louisianans regardless of their race or background. If officers violate this oath and the public’s trust, they should be held responsible and face the appropriate consequences for their action or inaction. For our officers, we believe this important work can be accomplished with strong leadership at the Louisiana State Police.
“As the Governor has said, he is fully supportive of Louisiana State Police Col. Lamar Davis, who became the head of LSP last October,” Stephens added. “His charge to Col. Davis was not just to lead the agency, but also to transform it, and that monumental work has already started through internal reviews and expanded training.”
Also in response to a request from the Illuminator, Capt. Nick Manale released the following statement on behalf of Col. Davis:
“For the last 8 months, our agency has carefully evaluated and examined our processes and operational practices leading to fundamental improvements to our operations, training, and administration,” Davis said. “These improvements and reforms affect every aspect of our department and is made possible through the dedicated efforts of our Troopers, DPS Police Officers, and support staff. No one is more committed to implementing positive change within our agency than our own personnel who work tirelessly each day to provide professional public safety services to the state of Louisiana.
“While the process remains ongoing and there is much work to be done, I am extremely proud of the efforts of the men and women within the Department of Public Safety to change our internal culture, promote leadership at all levels, and place focus on investing in our communities. We remain committed to the reform process through continued coordination with the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus and invaluable conversations with stakeholders representing diverse populations throughout our state. Through this partnership, we will ensure the implementation of critical changes and the building of trust within the communities we serve.”
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