Ronald Greene committee asks Gov. Edwards to testify on what he knew and when
Lawmakers again frustrated with lack of clarity from State Police
Louisiana State Police Superintendent Col. Lamar Davis leaves the testimony table during a June 1, 2022, meeting of the Ronald Greene Special Committee. Lawmakers asked questions to Lt. Col. Chris Eskew, seated, who was in charge of State Police internal affairs at the time Greene died in state police custody. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)
After the Ronald Greene Special Committee heard testimony Wednesday from another high-ranking Louisiana State Police administrator, Gov. John Bel Edwards and two of his legal advisers were formally asked to testify before state lawmakers.
The committee, which is investigating all aspects of Greene’s May 10, 2019, deadly beating in the custody of state troopers and the alleged cover-up that followed, has requested that Edwards appear June 16 along with his executive counsel, Matthew Block, and special counsel Tina Vanichchagorn, according to a statement from House Speaker Clay Schexnayder.
Lawmakers are trying to find out how much the governor knew about Greene’s death and when after a Jan. 28 Associated Press article suggested Edwards withheld information from the public to protect his reelection campaign. Edwards has maintained that the AP article is inaccurate. They also want to know who at State Police may have misled medical examiners to conclude Greene died in a car accident and from “agitated delirium.”
The committee has received conflicting accounts on when State Police leaders obtained body-camera footage from Lt. John Clary, the ranking trooper on the scene in Union Parish after a police pursuit of Greene ended. There are also questions about when the governor was shown the Clary video.
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Lt. Col. Chris Eskew, who oversaw the State Police internal affairs division at the time of Greene’s death, told committee members he showed the Clary video to the governor and Greene’s family at an October 2020 meeting. Union Parish District Attorney John Belton had also seen the video by that time, he said.
Belton previously told lawmakers State Police showed him some of the body-camera footage but withheld the Clary video from the comprehensive investigative file that he received. Belton said he didn’t receive the Clary video until April 2021. Edwards wanted to release the other videos to the public, according to the district attorney, but federal authorities asked him to withhold them while their investigation continued.
The Clary video shows parts of Greene’s beating and death that were not captured from other troopers’ body cameras.
Eskew said he was unaware Belton’s office had not received the video until nearly two years after Greene’s death, noting that someone else with State Police would have handled any requests from prosecutors.
Committee member Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans, said he was “getting deeply frustrated” and having difficulty understanding the lack of communication from and within State Police.
Rep. Debbie Villio, R-Kenner, began a line of questioning about how Eskew prepared for his appearance before the committee. Eskew said he didn’t speak with anyone to prepare his testimony.
Villio then produced a letter the committee received from Block, the governor’s lawyer, that said Eskew would be able to confirm when the governor first viewed the videos. In response, Eskew reiterated that he didn’t speak with anyone to prepare for his testimony Wednesday but acknowledged Block did call him last week to alert him that his name would be in the letter.
Under questioning from Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, Eskew initially said he saw no criminal activity in any of the videos that he reviewed as part of his internal affairs probe.
He later changed his answer, admitting that the troopers’ actions were criminal, after his boss, Superintendent Col. Lamar Davis, publicly gave him permission to answer honestly during the meeting. Eskew said he was initially reluctant to answer for fear that it might harm ongoing criminal and administrative investigations.
Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, a former sheriff’s deputy, said it is obvious that troopers used excessive force that led to Greene’s death, adding that is a “logical conclusion.”
Eskew confirmed the internal affairs probe began in August 2020 despite usual State Police protocol to wait for criminal investigations to conclude before beginning their own investigation. The internal probe sustained complaints of policy violations against troopers Chris Hollingsworth, Kory York and Dakota DeMoss, but Eskew could not say why the agency made an exception to begin its probe for the Greene case.
Louisiana State Police leaders were silent about Greene’s death until troopers on the scene became the targets of a federal wrongful death lawsuit that his daughter filed May 6, 2020, that eventually spurred news reports.
Internal investigators determined Hollingsworth and York used excessive force but exonerated DeMoss. Eskew said DeMoss committed lesser policy violations.
When asked, Eskew said none of the troopers violated any duty-to-intervene policies because they did not exist at the time.
In December 2020, a federal court in Baton Rouge denied the troopers’ motions to dismiss the wrongful death lawsuit that alleged they had a duty to intervene and protect Greene.
Judge Terry Doughty wrote that every reasonable officer would have understood by May 2019 that “they could not stand by and idly watch or fail to intervene while another officer beat, smothered, choked, and/or used an electronic control device against a non-resisting suspect who was subdued and posing no threat to anyone.”
The committee also made public the written responses received from one of the Arkansas medical examiners who conducted Greene’s autopsy. The pathologist wrote that state troopers told him Greene’s head injuries were caused by “tree branches.”
Lawmakers said they intend to follow-up with additional questions to try to determine the names of the troopers who spoke to the medical examiner.
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