BATON ROUGE, La. – The US Department of Justice is launching a full civil rights investigation into the Louisiana State Police amid mounting evidence that the agency is turning a blind eye to beatings of primarily black men, including the fatal arrest of Ronald Greene in 2019.
The nationwide “model-or-practice” study announced on Thursday followed one Investigating the Associated Press which found that Greene’s arrest was among at least a dozen instances over the past decade in which state police officers or their bosses ignored or concealed evidence of beatings, deflected blame, and hindered efforts to root out wrongdoing. Dozens of current and former soldiers said the beatings were from a Culture of impunity, nepotism and, in some cases, outright racism.
“We find important justification for opening this investigation now. … We have received information about the repeated use of excessive force, often against people suspected of minor traffic offenses who are already handcuffed or fail to resist,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who heads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. She added there were also reports of police officers targeting black residents while conducting traffic enforcement, using “racial slurs and racially derogatory terms.”
The federal investigation, the first such action against a statewide law enforcement agency in more than two decades, comes more than three years after the arrests of white soldiers long held body camera video Hitting, stunning and dragging Greene on a rural roadside near Monroe. Despite a lengthy, ongoing federal and state criminal investigation into a death soldiers initially blamed for a car accident, no one was charged.
AP reports that soldiers have made a habit of turning off or muting body cameras during pursuits. When footage is captured, the agency has routinely refused to release it. And a recently retired officer who oversaw a particularly violent gang of soldiers told internal investigators last year that it was his “standard practice” to rubber-stamp reports of officers’ use of force without ever reviewing body-camera video .
In some cases, the soldiers refrained from using force, e.g blows to the head from official reports, and in others, soldiers tried to justify their actions by claiming they were suspects violence, resistance or flightall of which were contradicted by video recordings.
“This systematic misconduct was blessed by the top executives of the Louisiana State Police,” said Alanah Odoms, Executive Director of the Louisiana ACLU. She described a “culture of violence, terror and discrimination” within the agency and called Greene’s death “the tip of the iceberg.”
Clarke said the civilian “pattern-or-practice” inquiry aims to advance necessary reforms, if necessary, by seeking implementation of a federal consent decree. She added that Gov. John Bel Edwards and Louisiana State Police Chief Lamar Davis have pledged their cooperation. State police did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Black leaders have been urging the Justice Department for months to launch a broader investigation into possible racial profiling by the predominantly white state police, similar to other investigations opened in Minneapolis, Louisville and Phoenix over the past year.
By their own account, 67% of state police violence in recent years has been directed at blacks, who make up 33% of the state’s population.
The action comes as Edwards is preparing to a bipartisan body by state lawmakers investigating Greene’s death. AP reported last month that the Democratic governor and his attorneys privately saw video showing Greene taking his last breaths during his fatal arrest — footage that didn’t reach prosecutors until nearly two years after Greene’s death on May 10, 2019.
Federal prosecutors are also still investigating whether law enforcement officials obstructed justice to protect soldiers in the Greene case — and whether they attempted to hide evidence that soldiers beat other black motorists.
State Police Chief at the time of Greene’s arrest, Kevin Reeves, has denied the death was covered up, but current commanders have told lawmakers investigating the state’s response that it was. The agency’s own use of force expert called what the soldiers did to Greene ” torture and murder.”
The AP also noted that a former soldier involved in three separate beatings, Jacob Brown, cited 23 acts of violence from 2015, 19 of which involved black people. In a case that led to federal indictments, Brown was seen on body camera video punching Aaron Larry Bowman 18 times with a flashlight after MPs pulled him over for a traffic violation in 2019. State police did not investigate the attack until 536 days later, and only did so after a lawsuit from Bowman, who was left with a laceration to the head and a broken jaw, ribs and wrist.
“Finally!!!” Bowman’s attorney, Donecia Banks-Miley, said in a text message when he heard about the model-or-practice investigation. “We still need transparency and accountability to ease the pain that continues to be experienced by LSPs and other law enforcement agencies.”
Bleiberg reported from Uvalde, Texas.
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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/09/justice-department-opens-probe-into-louisiana-state-police/ The Justice Department is launching an investigation into the Louisiana State Police