(The Center Square) — A special legislative committee investigating the death of motorist Ronald Greene in 2019 heard testimony from Louisiana State Police Capt. Lamar Davis and the victim’s mother on Monday after Gov. John Bel Edwards declined to participate.
Edwards’ executive counsel Tina Vanichchagorn cited short notice and scheduling conflicts for the governor declining to appear on Monday before the Special Committee to Inquire into the Circumstances and Investigation of the Death of Ronald Greene.
Lawmakers were hoping to learn what Edwards knew and how he reacted to Greene’s death after the Associated Press uncovered a text message he received from state police shortly after the May 10, 2019 incident.
Edwards initially described the legislative committee’s inquiry as a “witch hunt,” then later agreed to testify, but has twice declined to participate when requested. The committee has subpoena power to compel the governor’s cooperation, but has not used it.
Greene led troopers on a high-speed chase through Monroe and Union parishes before he crashed his rented car in the early morning hours of May 10. The AP alleged Edwards kept the truth about the incident under wraps for two years until the news wire obtained and published body-camera footage from the incident showing troopers jolting the 49-year-old with stun guns, punching him in the face and dragging him by his ankles. Police initially told the public and Greene’s family he died in a car crash.
Col. Lamar Davis, who took over the department after Greene’s death, testified on Monday about changes he’s implemented since the incident, which involved issues with missing officer camera footage, investigative delays, excessive force and allegations of racism.
“There’s a lot of work to be done with our policies,” Davis said. “We’ve also looked at our use of force procedures.”
Davis described changes including improved deescalation training, implicit bias training, new camera and video review policies, mandatory cameras for troopers ranked lieutenant and below, duty to intervene training, a new discipline matrix to ensure consistent punishments and methods to warn other agencies of issues with fired officers. In addition, Davis commissioned a top-to-bottom assessment from consultants with the Bowman Group, he said.
The department has also increased technology with computer-aided dispatch and software to track crashes and officers that respond.
“All these systems have the capacity of creating statistics,” Davis said. “We are going to make that information public.”
Several lawmakers questioned how various aspects of the case were delayed or went unresolved, and why top state police officials were not more involved in the investigation of Greene’s death. Davis offered few answers about details before his tenure at the top, and instead focused on changes since.
“At the end of the day, people didn’t care enough,” said Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville.
“I couldn’t agree with you more,” Davis said.
Mona Hardin, Greene’s mother, also testified on Monday, calling the incident “murder” and pushing back against the state police narrative of change.
Hardin noted that two of the troopers involved remain employed by the state police, others have retired, and no one has been charged with a crime.
“Who ends up answering for what happened to Ronnie?” she questioned “I’m still hoping someone will pay for the murder of my boy.”
The case is currently under a federal investigation for possible criminal charges related to the trooper’s actions, in addition to a U.S. Justice Department review of the agency as a whole.
The committee hearing came on the same day a Union Parish grand jury began considering possible criminal charges, though District Attorney John Belton has not identified which troopers may be charged, NOLA.com reports.
Edwards has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
An autopsy ordered by the FBI did not reach a conclusion on whether Greene’s death was a homicide, but noted contributing factors including “cocaine use, conducted electrical weapon application, physical struggle, prone restraint, blunt force injury, and neck compression,” according to the news site.