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)
State lawmakers on a special committee investigating allegations of a coverup in the 2019 death of a Black motorist in State Police custody want to know more about trooper cellphones that were “sanitized” or wiped clean of data and more recent text messages sent to Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Members of what’s officially called the Special Committee to Inquire into the Circumstances and Investigation into the Death of Ronald Greene held their first meeting Tuesday at the Capitol and listed names of people they would like to testify. The committee does not have subpoena power to compel witnesses to appear, but there was discussion of adding that authority through a legislative resolution.
The committee was formed shortly after a Jan. 28 Associated Press article revealed that Edwards had been made aware of circumstances surrounding Greene’s death well before official details and body camera video from troopers were made public. Greene died in May 2019 following a police pursuit after what was initially described to the governor in a text message as a “lengthy, violent struggle” between troopers and an unnamed individual. State police initially claimed Greene succumbed from injuries in a car wreck that ended the chase outside Monroe.
For more than a year after Greene’s death, Edwards remained largely silent about the incident despite revelations that troopers kicked, dragged, beat and used their stun guns on Greene while he lay handcuffed on the side of a Union Parish highway.
Edwards, a Democrat, called the AP report inaccurate and offered a rebuttal that has so far satisfied the Legislative Black Caucus. Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder pressed forward with forming the bipartisan committee, which House Speaker Pro Tempore Tanner Magee, R-Houma, chairs.
“I’m not interested in any sort of witch hunt for any particular person,” Magee said at Tuesday’s committee meeting. “My only motivation in this committee is to get to the truth, whatever that may be and wherever that may lead us, and also to provide some closure to the general public and to the Greene family.”
Magee said he was particularly interested in the coverup allegations, including the state police decision to “sanitize” the cellphones of their top brass. Data were removed from Lt. Col. Doug Cain’s phone in February 2020, the same month that whistleblower Albert Paxton, an LSP internal investigator at the time, escalated the Greene case file to the FBI, according to a WBRZ report.
Former LSP Superintendent Col. Kevin Reeves and his second-in-command, Lt. Col. Mike Noel, also had their phones wiped clean.
Also on the special committee’s witness list is Triet Le, the state’s technology specialist who was reportedly ordered to erase the phones, Magee said.
Committee member Rep. Debbie Villio, R-Kenner, a former prosecutor, came to the meeting prepared with a list of records she wants the committee to request or subpoena. They include, among other things, all records of communication regarding the Greene incident between the governor, his staff or representatives, and 10 top state police administrators.
Magee also wants to see any text messages between Edwards and current LSP Superintendent Col. Lamar Davis in reference to meetings with Union Parish District Attorney John Belton. The governor’s office was communicating with Belton as details about the case emerged to the public, according to WBRZ.
“I’ve done investigations like this,” committee member Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, said. “This could take three years with all this information.”
The committee’s potential witness list so far includes:
- Lt. Col. Layne Barnum
- John Belton, Union Parish district attorney
- Lt. Scott Brown
- Lt. Col. Doug Cain
- Trooper Carl Cavalier
- Lt. John Cleary
- Col. Lamar Davis, LSP superintendent
- Sgt. Scott Davis
- Col. Mike Edmonson, former LSP superintendent
- Randy Hidalgo, technical support supervisor
- Jimmy Leblanc, secretary of the Department of Public Safety
- Triet Lee, information technology specialist
- Capt. Nick Manale
- Faye Morrison, LSP legal counsel
- Lt. Col. Mike Noel
- Sgt. Albert Paxton
- Col. Kevin Reeves, former LSP superintendent
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