Embroiled former Louisiana State Police leader agrees to turn over journals

Former Col. Kevin Reeves faces contempt charge from lawmakers probing Ronald Greene’s death

By: - May 26, 2022 1:24 pm
Lewis Unglesby calls Col. Kevin Reeves

Attorney Lewis Unglesby calls former Louisiana State Police Superintendent Col. Kevin Reeves from a legislative committee room Thursday, May 26, 2022, to get his client’s approval to share a journal Reeves kept while he was in charge. Lawmakers who are investigating allegations of a cover-up in the 2019 death of Black motorist Ronald Greene want to see if Reeves’ journal contains information about the case. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)

The state lawmaker leading a probe of Louisiana State Police has agreed to pause his pursuit of contempt charges against former superintendent Col. Kevin Reeves pending a delicate agreement the parties reached Thursday.

Reeves, through his attorney Lewis Unglesby, agreed to turn over the entirety of his three personal journals to a special committee looking into allegations of a coverup in the 2019 death of Black motorist Ronald Greene in state police custody. Video of the incident shows white troopers beating, kicking, dragging and using stun guns and pepper spray on Greene before leaving him restrained face down until the 49-year-old died. State Police later claimed he died from injuries in a car accident.

An agreement reached between Unglesby and House Speaker Pro Tempore Tanner Magee calls for the journals Reeves kept at the time to be turned over to the investigative committee by end of day Friday. The records would be kept under seal by the House clerk, meaning they aren’t available to the public, and Reeves is allowed to withhold any personal financial or identification details from his notes. 

The fragile accord was reached just as the House and Governmental Affairs Committee prepared to vote on Magee’s resolution to hold Reeves in contempt of the Ronald Greene committee, which had subpoenaed the journals in April but has so far received only 11 pages that Reeves, himself, deemed relevant to the investigation.

Magee and Rep. John Stefanski, who chairs the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, will visit Unglesby’s office in Baton Rouge on Friday to collect the journals and verify that only irrelevant personal information is redacted. Magee agreed Thursday to withdraw the contempt resolution if the meeting is successful.

Unglesby initially said he would welcome anyone from the Legislature except Magee and Rep. Debbie Villio, who together spearheaded the contempt resolution. He said it would be uncomfortable to have someone in his office who accused him of being a liar. 

This prompted Magee to defend his allegation that Reeves and Unglesby “outright lied” when they claimed to have no documents related to Ronald Greene. He then accused Unglesby of disparaging female legislators by referring to them as “Miss” while referring to male legislators as “Representative.” 

 Just as it appeared the compromise might be in danger of collapsing, Stefanski regained order of the room and offered to accompany Magee to Unglesby’s office and act as an unofficial mediator. Unglesby accepted Stefanski’s offer, and the meeting adjourned. 

Similar previous arrangements between Unglesby and Magee have failed to produce the journals. Magee argued that Unglesby intentionally stalled and took other actions to circumvent the subpoena, prompting the special committee to unanimously advance the contempt charge, which would hit Reeves with a $5,000 fine. 

When the Ronald Greene Committee first requested the journals in April, Unglesby responded with a willingness to cooperate, Magee said.  

Unglesby argued that Reeves fully complied with the subpoena and has no other documents relevant to the case. He added that the subpoena was overly broad and unnecessarily intrusive on Reeves’s privacy, which is why Reeves disclosed only the 11 pages he thought were relevant. 

Several lawmakers countered that Reeves had no authority to make such a unilateral decision because the subpoena ordered the disclosure of the notebook in its entirety. Magee said he gave Unglesby several chances to either provide the notebook to the House clerk’s office, where it would be made available only to investigative committee members, or to review the entries together to redact any private information. 

However, the two men disagreed when they first met for the review and redaction process. Magee said Unglesby wanted to redact pages that contained the phrase “police brutality,” but Magee thought they could be relevant to the committee’s investigation.  

Stefanski said the power of the subpoena does not differentiate between public and private records. It is the investigative committee’s job to determine whether a specific page or entry is relevant to the investigation, he added. 

Lawmakers on the Ronald Greene committee first learned of Reeves’ notebook when he confirmed its existence during his testimony March 15. Villio asked him to produce it as an item of evidence for the committee, but Reeves declined, prompting the committee to issue a written request March 29. 

The committee received a response April 13, when Unglesby wrote that Reeves had no “Ronald Greene documents,” Villio said. 

“Members, that’s patently false,” Villio told the committee, “and we know that because later on, when some snippets of documents were produced, we know for a fact that statement was patently false.” 

The special committee then followed up with the official subpoena on April 19. Reeves eventually disclosed 11 pages but withheld the remainder. According to some of the pages he disclosed, Reeves noted soon after the incident that the troopers’ actions were a “problem” that he “must address immediately,” though little was done.

Villio said another of Reeves’ journal entries indicated a staff member from Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office named Tina supposedly viewed the “infamous” body-camera video from Lt. John Clary in October 2020. Villio said this is significant because it was alleged that State Police did not know the Clary video existed at that time. 

Clary was the senior ranking trooper on the scene of Greene’s apprehension in Union Parish after a police pursuit. The lieutenant falsely told State Police investigators Greene was “still yelling, screaming … and he was still resisting, even though he was handcuffed” and trying to flee, according to the Associated Press. Clary also denied the existence of his body camera footage for nearly two years. His statements were proven false when 30 minutes of video from his body camera emerged in April 2021, showing Greene never screamed, resisted or tried to flee, the AP reported.

Internal affairs investigators wrote that Clary’s video “clearly shows Greene to be suffering” and can be heard “gasping for air” as troopers kept him face down, cuffed and shackled for more than nine minutes.

Unglesby used Villio’s mention of the governor to suggest the lawmaker is only trying to build a political case against Edwards. He said neither state nor federal prosecutors have shown any interest in Reeves’ journal.

“What this is all about is interactions between Col. Reeves and Gov. Edwards,” Unglesby said.

The Republican-controlled Legislature showed little interest in Ronald Greene’s death until an AP story this year suggested the governor may have known more about the case than he let on back in 2019. House Speaker Clay Schexnayder assembled the special Ronald Greene committee initially to dig into those allegations, which Edwards denied. As chairman, Magee widened the committee’s scope to include all aspects related to Greene’s death.

Unglesby told the lawmakers Reeves had nothing to do with any kind of cover-up.

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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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