Former Louisiana State Police leader’s lack of info in Ronald Greene case frustrates lawmakers

“I cringed to sit in here, constantly hearing you say ‘I didn’t read this’ and ‘I didn’t read that’”

By: - March 15, 2022 7:28 pm

Former State Police Superintendent Kevin Reeves testifies before the legislative committee investigating the circumstances surrounding Ronald Greene’s death. (JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)

A bipartisan committee of state lawmakers spent nearly three hours Tuesday pressing the former superintendent of Louisiana State Police about what he knew about the May 2019 death of Ronald Greene, a Black motorist, in the custody of troopers after a vehicle pursuit in north Louisiana.

Col. Kevin Reeves retired in October 2020 with numerous questions about Greene’s still unanswered. Body camera video from the incident had not yet been released, with State Police saying the matter was still under investigation. The footage would show that troopers kicked, dragged, beat and shot Greene with their stun guns on the side of a highway near Monroe.     

There was “no effort, to my knowledge, to cover up or mislead anyone about the events surrounding Ronald Greene,” Reeves told members of the House committee tasked with investigating allegations of a coverup.

Greene died after what was initially described to Gov. John Bel Edwards in a text message as a “lengthy, violent struggle” between troopers and an unnamed individual. State Police initially claimed Greene succumbed from injuries in the car wreck that ended the chase. An autopsy the FBI ordered attributed Greene’s cause of death to the police violence.

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When Reeves was asked if Greene had died because of injuries from the car crash, he said the crash “was definitely a contributing factor” and that he hadn’t seen the FBI’s autopsy report.

Lawmakers grilled Reeves after he claimed to not be aware of State Police statements and other evidence surrounding the incident.

Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans, told Reeves that “it seems like you were just grossly disengaged” as State Police superintendent.

“I cringed to sit in here, constantly hearing you say ‘I didn’t read this’ and ‘I didn’t read that,’” Hughes said to Reeves.

Rep. Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville, a member of the investigative committee, said to Reeves “it seems like you’re kind of putting on blinders” to statements and video evidence of the Greene incident in order to plead ignorance on the record.

When the committee’s chairman, Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, asked Reeves about the State Police’s initial explanation that Greene died from the crash and left out the violent struggle afterwards, Reeves said he didn’t see the statement.

Reeves later said he read a State Police detective’s report on the incident that included the police’s initial statement. Magee called out Reeves for contradicting himself.

“I’m having a hard time squaring what you just testified to,” Magee told Reeves.

When asked after the meeting about his exchange with Reeves, Magee said “that was disconcerting because, obviously, I want to take (Reeves) at his word … that he’s being honest with us. But it’s hard.”

“It didn’t add up,” Magee added.

Magee said it was “concerning” to hear Reeves’ testimony, which gave the lawmaker the impression the former State Police leader was disengaged with his subordinates and their supervisors when the Greene incident occurred. Magee added that he hopes to hear from current State Police Superintendent Lamar Davis to see if leadership in state police is still operating so hands-off.

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Immediately after Reeves’ appearance, Greene’s mother, Mona Hardin, made an emotional statement to the committee. 

“This is in the state of Louisiana, this happened,” Hardin said, fighting through tears. “This really, really happened.”

“It’s awful that someone that’s been in such a high position could have so many ‘I don’t know’ responses,” she said. “It’s so disrespectful to the office they hold, these overpaid, well-dressed officials.”

House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, who formed the committee, introduced a resolution to grant the committee subpoena power

Currently, the committee can only invite witnesses to testify, but they are not compelled to appear. Subpoenas could also be used to obtain records relevant to their investigation.

During the meeting, Magee shut off the microphone of Reeves’ lawyer Lewis Unglesby and eventually forced him to leave the seat next to his client. Unglesby had interjected repeatedly to tell lawmakers to show Reeves respect after the chairman had told Unglesby he could only consult with his client and not address the committee. 

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is an award-winning journalist at The Louisiana Illuminator. Canicosa has previous experience at Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon and 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.

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