Marleigh Baudoin of Lafayette holds a sign during a rally to support Ronald Greene’s family at the Louisiana State Capitol on Thursday, May 27, 2021. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)
Four Louisiana state troopers and a Union Parish sheriff’s deputy, all white men, were indicted Thursday in the 2019 killing of Black motorist Ronald Greene.
The charges follow more than three years of public pressure on federal and state authorities to act in a case that includes allegations that Louisiana State Police troopers covered up the 49-year-old’s death by blaming it on a car wreck and concealing video footage of Greene’s beating.
Master Trooper Kory York faces the most serious charge, one count of negligent homicide, along with 10 counts of malfeasance in office.
Lt. John Clary, the ranking officer from Troop F who was on the scene of the incident, faces charges of malfeasance in office and obstruction of justice. An internal investigation revealed Clary mislabeled his body-camera footage, which — when eventually found — showed graphic parts of Greene’s beating and death not captured on any other cameras at the scene.
Trooper Dakota DeMoss and retired Capt. John Peters each face charges of obstruction of justice. Union Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Harpin faces three counts of malfeasance in office.
DeMoss has been on leave since he was arrested last year in an unrelated case for allegedly using excessive force and turning off his body camera during arrests.
Greene died May 10, 2019, following a vehicle pursuit outside of Monroe. Body-camera footage of the incident, which State Police withheld for two years, shows troopers beating, choking, stunning and dragging Greene before leaving him in a prone position for at least nine minutes and failing to render aid. He was dead when paramedics arrived on the scene, according to testimony given to a Louisiana House committee investigating the alleged cover-up.
“Today’s indictments followed a thorough and extensive investigation by state and federal agencies,” State Police Superintendent Col. Lamar A. Davis said in a statement Thursday. “Any instance of excessive force jeopardizes public safety and is a danger to our communities. These actions are inexcusable and have no place in professional public safety services.”
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District Attorney John Belton, who represents Union and Lincoln parishes, brought the case to a grand jury in November after federal authorities shared with him their findings from a civil rights investigation that did not result in federal charges.
State Police initially failed to investigate the incident, which only came to light when Greene’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit on May 6, 2020, that eventually spurred news reports. Troopers initially claimed Greene died on impact after his car struck a tree, but the lawsuit uncovered emergency room records that reflect the suspicions of the first doctor who examined Greene’s body.
Also, photos of Greene’s body, initially shared on social media by the NAACP and published by the Associated Press, showed crescent-shaped gash marks on Greene’s face and scalp. Photos of his vehicle showed only minor damage to the rear quarter panel and no deployment of the car’s airbags.
An Arkansas pathologist who conducted the autopsy wrote that state troopers told him Greene’s head injuries were caused by “tree branches.” The initial autopsy report noted blunt object trauma and lacerations to Greene’s head were “inconsistent with motor vehicle collision,” according to CNN.
Still, former Union Parish Coroner Abbie Moon — who is not a physician and did not perform the autopsy — included the car wreck and the controversial diagnosis of “agitated delirium” among the factors that killed Greene.
Moon was arrested in March in an unrelated case involving 21 counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud, according to the Ruston Daily Leader.
In 2021, the FBI conducted a subsequent review of the autopsy and ruled out the car wreck and agitated delirium as causes of death. “Black box” data that the FBI obtained from Greene’s vehicle concluded that his fractured breastbone and ruptured aorta likely resulted from chest compressions administered by EMTs and not a result of the low-speed crash.
“Today’s decision is a long overdue first step toward justice for Ronald Greene’s family and accountability for a broken police system,” the ACLU of Louisiana said in a statement. “Those indicted must be terminated immediately, arrested immediately, and charged.”
Louisiana State Police, as an agency, remains under scrutiny from federal authorities. In June, the U.S. Department of Justice launched a civil rights investigation into the agency to determine if a “pattern or practice” of abusive unconstitutional policing exists within its ranks following a series of high-profile beatings of Black motorists other than Greene.
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