Louisiana State Police silence will continue without leadership accountability
Col. Kevin Reeves is appointed Louisiana State Police superintendent by Gov. John Bel Edwards in June 2017. (Photo from Louisiana Governor’s Office Twitter feed)
State lawmakers have not extracted much new information from high-ranking Louisiana State Police officials as they look into allegations of a coverup in the 2019 death of Ronald Greene while in custody. Whether you want to call it avoidance or reluctance, the dearth of revelations from the law enforcement agency’s leadership should come as no surprise.
For nearly a decade, there has been a pattern of transgressions that either directly involved the upper echelons of State Police or occurred with their explicit knowledge.
In 2013, an internal LSP probe exonerated nine white troopers accused of brutality while apprehending two young Black men in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Surveillance video showed troopers tackling the teens, who were incorrectly suspected of a curfew violation. The city’s police chief, mayor and NAACP branch disputed the investigation’s findings. Their calls for accountability went unanswered.
Then-LSP Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson described the video as difficult to watch but said troopers used appropriate force. They faced no discipline for the incident.
Four other troopers didn’t get the colonel’s support following a scandal in 2016. Edmonson said they did not have his permission for side trips to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon while they were en route to a police conference in San Diego. Taxpayers covered the cost of their unofficial travels.
A news media investigation confirmed Edmonson was indeed aware of the excursion and had stayed in touch with the troopers the entire time. He would later ask them to delete their text messages from him, according to news reports. The state ethics board would eventually clear the four troopers.
The following year, a Legislative Auditor’s report revealed Edmonson and his family had enjoyed several perks at the expense of taxpayers. They lived rent-free in a home on the State Police compound in Baton Rouge, and hotel rooms set aside in New Orleans for troopers working for Mardi Gras were shared with Edmonson’s friends and relatives.
Edmonson had retired earlier in 2017 before the audit was released, allowing him to avoid punishment and further scrutiny.
The situation was very similar to the departure of his replacement, Col. Kevin Reeves. He stepped down in October 2020, shortly before body camera footage from white state troopers who apprehended Greene, a Black man, was made public. The video shows them beating, dragging and shooting Greene with their stun guns while handcuffed.
The special House committee looking into the Greene case is expected to acquire subpoena power soon and search for what Reeves knew and when – and whether he fully shared that information with Gov. John Bel Edwards. The FBI is also conducting its own probe into Greene’s death.
What’s already clear – and has been for some time – is that the power structure of state law enforcement lacks accountability. The State Police superintendent also serves as a deputy secretary of the Department of Corrections and Public Safety. Jimmy LeBlanc, the department’s leader, recently told a state Senate committee his supervisory authority over State Police is limited to approving payroll and time-off requests. As he described it, the top state trooper is an unofficial member of the governor’s cabinet and answerable only to the governor.
The Senate panel is tasked with recommending reform measures for State Police, and one should be separating the roles of LSP superintendent and deputy public safety secretary. Lawmakers discussed the possibility of appointing a non-law enforcement administrator to the deputy secretary’s role, making the superintendent answerable to at least one person under the governor.
Early pushback on that proposal has been that a civilian would not understand the inner workings of State Police, which ranking officers have described as a paramilitary organization.
This explains the insular mindset of LSP leaders who have appeared before the special House committee and bristled under questioning from lawmakers, who in turn have grown increasingly frustrated.
Until the top brass are held accountable, don’t expect the walls of silence to fall anytime soon.
SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.