Louisiana state Rep. Vincent Pierre (D-Lafayette), the newly-elected chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, speaks to the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday Feb. 7, 2022, regarding the death of Ronald Greene and the legislature’s redistricting session, among other matters of concern to the caucus. (Photo by Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)
The new head of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus reassured the Baton Rouge Press Club Monday that the caucus remains in full support of Gov. John Bel Edwards after an Associated Press report alleged Edwards misled the public about the death of Ronald Greene.
“I think the governor has done everything he possibly can to ensure that justice is served for the Greene family,” Rep. Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette, said. “I think further investigation will show that” … “I’m confident that what the governor has presented to us is exactly what transpired in those emails.”
Pierre’s remarks came during the question-and-answer segment following his address as guest speaker to journalists and club members at the Baton Rouge Press Club’s weekly luncheon. Pierre was recently elected chairman of the Black Caucus to replace Rep. Ted James, who resigned from the Legislature in January after being appointed by President Joe Biden to a regional leadership post in the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The questions stem from a Jan. 28 AP report that said Edwards was made aware of a May 2019 State Police vehicle pursuit that ended in a wreck outside Monroe. The story included text messages and emails the governor’s office disclosed as part of a public records request. One was a text from the then-head of State Police that notified Edwards that troopers had engaged in a “violent, lengthy struggle” with a motorist who later died in custody.
The AP report suggested Edwards knew more about Greene’s death than he initially disclosed. It prompted immediate questions from the Black Caucus and criticism of Edwards, a Democrat, by political rivals and Republicans.
The governor called the AP report inaccurate, saying the text message he received from State Police was part of a notification protocol whenever someone dies in police custody. He pointed out that the text made no mention of Greene’s name. The AP has maintained its confidence in the report’s accuracy.
Edwards said he did not see and was not aware of video footage of the incident until September 2020.
The same AP article also cited anonymous law enforcement sources who suggested Edwards was under investigation regarding his awareness of various aspects of the case and whether he “downplayed the need for a legislative inquiry” to an “influential lawmaker.”
That lawmaker was Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, who met with the governor in June 2021 to contemplate holding a legislative inquiry into Greene’s death. Schexnayder said the governor told him there was no need because “Greene died in a wreck,” according to the AP.
Edwards denied this, and Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, who was also at that meeting, has since said he does not remember the governor ever saying Greene died in a wreck. Cortez added that he left with the sense that there was no need for a legislative inquiry.
The governor has no authority over legislative inquiries. In July 2021, the Black Caucus called on the U.S. Department of Justice to launch a “top-to-bottom” investigation of the State Police.
At Monday’s luncheon, Pierre referred to Schexnayder’s comment by pointing to a recent joint statement from the Department of Justice and FBI that dismissed any rumors of an investigation into the governor’s office. That Jan. 31 news release stated, in part, that “recent reporting citing sources suggesting that the FBI has questioned people about the awareness of certain facts by Governor John Bel Edwards is inaccurate.”
On Jan. 31, the first Monday after the AP story was published and shortly before the legislature began its special session for redistricting, Pierre and the rest of the Black Caucus held an informal meeting with Edwards to discuss the allegations. Afterwards, Pierre told reporters he was satisfied with the governor’s explanation.
Republicans have an overwhelming majority in the legislature and have so far blocked attempts by Democrats and the Black Caucus to add additional majority-Black political districts in proportion with Louisiana’s increase of Black residents who now comprise one-third of the state’s population. Pierre said he hopes Edwards will exercise his veto authority on redistricting maps that maintain the status quo and seek to cement white Republican control.
Pierre said the Black Caucus’ relationship with Edwards remains “great.”
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