Coroners’ records missing on Ronald Greene death

Legislative panel raises more questions about alleged State Police coverup

By: - April 30, 2022 6:00 am
Coroners records missing on Ronald Greene death

Ouachita Parish Coroner’s Investigator Angie Hollis (front), Ouachita Coroner Dr. Teri O’Neal and Union Parish Coroner Renee Smith (back) testify before the Louisiana Legislature’s committee investigating the Ronald Greene case on Thursday, April 29, 2022. (WES MULLER/LOUISIANA ILLUMINATOR)

Questioning coroners and a paramedic, Louisiana lawmakers on the special committee investigating the Ronald Greene case learned some new details about the 49-year-old’s death in Louisiana State Police custody. But critical testimony fell short as the coroners deferred questions to others not in attendance and said official records in the case are missing. 

Answering questions committee member Rep. Tony Bacala posed, paramedic Cindy Ott said Greene had no signs of life when the ambulance arrived on the scene to transport him to Glenwood Regional Medical Center in West Monroe, casting doubt on the State Police narrative that Greene was still alive and died on his way to the hospital. 

“He was apneic, and I could not find a pulse,” Ott said, using the medical term for not breathing. 

Ott confirmed Greene’s fractured breastbone and ruptured aorta are “indicative of CPR.” The FBI reached the same conclusion in its addendum to the original autopsy report that blamed those injuries on Green crashing his car into a tree at the end of a state police pursuit. Ott said it’s not unusual for chest compressions to cause those injuries and others, such as a lacerated liver or punctured lung. 

Ott said Greene had stun gun probes still in his body, head lacerations, blood covering his face and head and tree bark in his hairline.

“We removed Taser probes from the left chest wall, left wrist, as well as the left lower back,” Ott said. 

The radio call that dispatched emergency medical services described the incident as a traffic accident, Ott said. 

The Associated Press later revealed state troopers omitted from their incident report how they used stun guns and beat, choked, dragged and restrained Greene face down for nine minutes before he stopped breathing, all of which was captured on police body-camera video that they refused to release to the public for nearly two years. 

Ott said state troopers refused to remove Greene’s handcuffs to allow medics to perform CPR to try to revive Greene and instead handcuffed him to the gurney. CPR efforts eventually stopped at the hospital, Ott said. 

Coroner’s officials from Union and Ouachita parishes also testified before the committee Thursday. Angie Hollis, an investigator with the Ouachita Parish Coroner’s Office, was the first to respond to the hospital. Hollis said she then transferred the case to Union Parish because the incident occurred there, but she could not recall whether she wrote a report to document the transfer.

The Union Parish coroner at the time was Abbie Moon, who left office the following year and did not attend Thursday’s hearing. Moon was arrested in March on 21 counts of obtaining narcotics by fraud, according to a report in the Ruston Daily Leader

Critical testimony could be out of reach for Ronald Greene committee

 

Renee Smith, the current Union Parish coroner, attended Thursday’s hearing and had little information to give lawmakers other than the records left with the office when she took over.

Reading from the autopsy report, Smith said Greene’s cause of death was cocaine-induced agitated delirium complicated by the car wreck, head injuries, physical struggle and restraint. Smith, like Moon, is neither a pathologist nor a physician, the only two medical professionals allowed to perform autopsies in Louisiana. Greene’s autopsy was outsourced to pathologists in Little Rock, Arkansas: Drs. Frank Peretti and Jennifer Forsyth.   

“Agitated delirium,” also known as “excited delirium,” is generally defined as being in a highly agitated or combative state. It is a controversial diagnosis the American Medical Association and most other national and international medical organizations have rejected because it has no clear diagnostic criteria and is a “sole justification for law enforcement use of excessive force.”

Smith also said she had not heard that the FBI performed a review of the autopsy and excluded agitated delirium and the car wreck as causes of death — information that has circulated widely in local and national news since November.

Rep. Mandie Landry asked Ouachita Parish Coroner Dr. Teri O’Neal how common it is to attribute a death to agitated delirium. O’Neal acknowledged it is a controversial term she has used several times in reports, usually when quoting the pathologist who performed an autopsy.

O’Neal, who said she has not watched any of the body-camera videos of troopers beating Greene, described the symptoms of agitated delirium as rapid heart rate, sweating, muscle tension, combativeness, altered mental state and altered awareness. Lawmakers tried to determine who witnessed Greene’s condition and shared those symptoms with the pathologist. None of the officials from the coroners’ offices had answers. 

O’Neal said it was “highly unusual” that her office had no reports, notes or any other records of Greene’s death. The only record that the former Union Parish coroner wrote contained a basic description of a traffic accident with no mention of symptoms that would indicate agitated delirium or a violent struggle, according to a copy read aloud during the committee meeting. 

“So much around this case we are finding a pattern of something being uncommon, something being unusual … There are so many things that are just out of practice with this case that I just find it disturbing,” committee member Rep. Edmond Jordan said. 

O’Neal said she plans to request an audit from an outside agency to see if any reports might have been created and subsequently lost or deleted. 

After reviewing a copy of the pathology report, a passage was read aloud to the committee that indicated the pathologist had received information verbally from state troopers, but there was no communication or written records from paramedics on the scene.

Jordan also pointed out state law prohibits coroners from issuing a cremation permit when suspicious circumstances surround a death. Under questioning, the coroners said they would have not issued a cremation permit for Greene’s body, which Moon, the former Union Parish coroner, did. 

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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