Gov. John Bel Edwards calls AP report on his knowledge of Ronald Greene’s death ‘false’

Edwards denies he or anyone on his staff tried to cover up information from state police

By: - February 1, 2022 8:14 pm

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edawrds calls a press conference Tuesday ti address an AP report than he sat on knowledge of Ronald Greene’s death. (JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)

Gov. John Bel Edwards said insinuations in an Associated Press report that he kept quiet after learning about Ronald Greene’s death in May 2019 following a car chase with Louisiana State Police are “simply and categorically false.”

Police body camera video of the incident, which happened outside Monroe, was released more than a year later and showed troopers beating and using stun guns on Greene, a Black man. Although state police initially attributed Greene’s death to the car accident that ended the chase, an autopsy would later refute that claim. The governor did not challenge the state police version before the video was made public by the AP.

Edwards, who had been in Washington, D.C., over the weekend, called a press conference Tuesday afternoon to answer questions about the AP report. Just before, he met with members of the Legislative Black Caucus to discuss the case.

The governor said the AP report was baseless in fact and inaccurately implied that he or his staff members purposefully tried to cover up the cause of Greene’s death to protect his reelection chances that year.

“I wouldn’t even know how to begin to go about it, to ask somebody to delay a criminal investigation in order to try to gain an advantage,” Edwards told reporters.

“I don’t even have the words – my command of the English language is insufficient to convey to you just how totally utterly false and without any basis” the claims in the AP report are, Edwards said.

After the AP published its report, the FBI issued a statement that refuted information in the story about agents questioning individuals regarding what the governor knew about Greene’s death. 

“AP stands by the accuracy of its reporting and has documentation to show such questioning took place,” the Associated Press said in response Monday.

Edwards confirmed he did receive Reeves’ text, but the message only informed him of the death of an unnamed individual. It was not until September 2020 when Edwards first learned of the “serious allegations against Louisiana State Police surrounding the arrest and death of Mr. Ronald Greene,” according to a statement from the governor’s office.

Edwards also had access to videos of the incident but said he was asked by the U.S. Department of Justice not to release them or disclose their content because the DOJ was investigating the incident and didn’t want Edwards to interfere.

“I think the governor did give us a good explanation.” said Rep. Vincent Pierre (D-Lafayette), new head of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus. “Of course, we felt that more should have been done.”

Pierre said Black lawmakers told the governor that he should have followed up more with state troopers after receiving a text that indicated a man had died in state police custody. They want communication with state police improved.

But after the AP report was published Friday, Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, issued a statement calling its findings “greatly disturbing.” 

Schexnayder said the governor told him there was no need for further legislative action last summer because “Greene died in a wreck,” not the violent struggle with state troopers afterwards.

In response, Edwards said Tuesday he never said Greene died in the wreck and called  Schexnayder’s statement “absolutely wrong.” The governor added that his relationship with the speaker has been “strained” since the Louisiana Legislature failed to override any of the governor’s vetoes following the 2021 session.

Schexnayder, who had just convened the House for a special session on redistricting, told reporters he stands by his comments.

“The truth is right now we don’t know what the truth is,” Schexnayder said.

Greene’s family is suing the state for a wrongful death in his case. Mona Hardin, Greene’s mother, has said Edwards should resign based on the AP report. The governor said he has not been in touch with Hardin since the story was published but planned to reach out to her.

When asked about reaction from the Legislative Black Caucus, Edwards said its members are concerned about policy changes that Louisiana State Police still need to make after Greene’s death.

Pierre says that the Black Caucus asked Edwards to treat texts from the state police superintendent that imply that someone died in police custody with more urgency.

“There is a long way to go. That is painfully obvious to me,” Edwards said.

Reporter Julie O’Donoghue contributed to this report. 

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is a former Louisiana Illuminator reporter. Prior to working with the Illuminator, Canicosa worked for Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon. Canicosa earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. At Loyola, he was the senior staff writer at The Maroon and the president of the school's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Off the clock, Canicosa enjoys playing basketball, watching movies and dabbling in comedy writing.