Lawmakers seek contempt charge for former State Police leader in Ronald Greene case

Action includes $5,000 fine, possibility of criminal referral

By: - May 11, 2022 7:40 pm
Lawmakers seek contempt charge for former State Police leader in Ronald Greene case

Reps. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, and C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, speak to one another during an April 7, 2022, meeting of the special House committee investigating the death of Ronald Greene in Louisiana State Police custody. (Greg LaRose | Louisiana Illuminator)

Lawmakers investigating the death of Ronald Greene in Louisiana State Police custody advanced a resolution Wednesday to hold the agency’s former leader in contempt of the Legislature for failing to provide personal records in connection with the case.

A special House committee investigating how Greene’s death was handled has ordered retired Col. Kevin Reeves to pay a $5,000 fine for his alleged failure to comply with their subpoena. 

The resolution, introduced by House Speaker Pro Tempore Tanner Magee, advanced unopposed and will next head to the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, where Reeves will have the chance to argue against the contempt finding. If the Governmental Affairs Committee agrees with the contempt finding, the resolution will advance to the House floor for consideration, Magee said. 

Magee said Reeves’ attorney, Lewis Unglesby, has stalled in responding to the committee’s subpoena for Reeves’ private journal entries that detail the former superintendent’s various thoughts and actions since Greene’s death on May 10, 2019, in Union Parish. Police body camera video shows that state troopers beat, kicked, choked, dragged and used stun guns on him following a vehicle pursuit. Troopers claimed Greene succumbed from injuries when his car ran into a tree, a finding that would later be debunked.  

Magee, who’s also a lawyer, said Unglesby has produced some pages from Reeves’ journals but has refused to disclose others that the two attorneys reviewed together and found to be relevant to the committee’s work. 

“As we stand today, we have yet to receive the documents that we requested, we subpoenaed,” Magee said. “We received a partial amount as decided by Mr. Unglesby.”

According to the journal pages Unglesby has so far disclosed, Reeves appeared to know early on in the case that the troopers’ actions were a “problem” that he “must address immediately,” though Reeves never followed through.

For more than a year, Greene’s death remained shrouded in secrecy while State Police took no action against the troopers seen on video beating Greene until details of the case were leaked to the Associated Press.

If the House of Representatives sustains the contempt resolution and the civil fine of $5,000, the committee members will consider filing a referral for criminal prosecution with the district attorney’s office, Magee said.

Unglesby did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Reeves and other LSP administrators in charge at the time of Greene’s death have since testified before the committee. Magee and other lawmakers on the panel have accused nearly all of them of withholding information. 

In an interview after Wednesday’s committee hearing, Rep. Mandie Landry said the LSP administrators claim to not remember anything whenever the committee asks a question.  

“They don’t recall, there were no policies or they didn’t know them, someone else decided, they retired, etcetera,” Landry said.

Trooper in charge of discipline ‘unaware’ of details

That trend continued Wednesday when the committee heard testimony from more LSP officials. Maj. Jay Oliphant, who was in charge of making disciplinary recommendations for troopers in the case, told lawmakers he could not recall what recommendations he made.

Oliphant also continued to push the narrative that Greene died from injuries suffered in a car wreck. That claim was contradicted in initial pathology findings and eventually discredited by the FBI, which reviewed the autopsy and eliminated the crash and a diagnosis of “agitated delirium” as causes of death.   

The committee has yet to find out who reported Greene’s supposed “agitated delirium” symptoms to the medical examiner in the case, a move that allowed State Police to deem Greene’s death an accident for more than two years.  

Critical testimony could be out of reach for Ronald Greene committee

Oliphant said he did not know the FBI had conducted a review of the autopsy and changed some of the causes of death.

Rep. Debbie Villio, a former state prosecutor, pointed out that troopers failed to take photos of Greene’s vehicle, recover the vehicle’s data recorder or conduct an accident reconstruction. “All of the things I think you would agree are done in a fatal crash, but none of that was done,” she said. 

“Did that ever strike you as inconsistent?” Villio asked Oliphant.

“I was unaware that that wasn’t done,” the major replied.

When Villio asked Oliphant if he was on the disciplinary review committee for the Greene death investigation, Oliphant said, “I’m pretty sure I was; I normally am.”

“You’re pretty sure you were?” Villio responded. “I mean this wasn’t an everyday event, was it? Don’t you think you would remember?”

Oliphant said he could not specifically remember. 

Despite the difficulty lawmakers have faced in getting direct answers from LSP brass, Magee told the Illuminator the committee has exposed some important things about the case.

“It’s been clear that the troopers used excessive force, and the top of state police failed to act to properly investigate,” he said. “Early on, Col. Reeves acknowledged the problem and possible measures to address but didn’t.” 

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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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