Even after Black motorist Ronald Greene died in a violent confrontation with troopers following a high-speed chase, Gov. John Bel Edwards trusted Louisiana State Police to “do the right thing” and took a hands-off approach in police matters, the former head of the agency told state lawmakers Tuesday.
During a three-hour bipartisan grilling that featured claims of bigotry and gross incompetence by the state’s top law enforcement agency, Kevin Reeves removed himself — and the Democratic governor — from the investigation into Greene’s 2019 death.
The meeting turned tense at times as legislators voiced their disbelief and outrage at Reeves’ denials and failure to criticize the white troopers who were shown on body camera footage hitting, stunning, and dragging Greene during his tragic arrest on a lonely crossroads in northeast Louisiana.
His withdrawal was termed as “inappropriate” and “strange” by lawmakers, who pledged to look into the matter further.
“I can tell you right now that I will not have to account for engaging in a cover-up of Mr. Ronald Greene’s death,” Reeves said, asserting he will one day face God with a clear conscience.
Reeves, who stepped down in late 2020 after facing criticism for his treatment of the Greene case, said that the arrest was “terrible but legitimate” and that he continued to believe that Greene died in a vehicle accident, despite a fresh autopsy ordered by the FBI that refuted that hypothesis.
He also claimed that even after resigning as superintendent, he retained a notebook with contemporaneous notes, but he refused to provide them to the special committee examining the state’s treatment of Greene’s death. He explained, “My journal is my personal business, and I’m not here to discuss it.”
The eight-member panel was formed last month after The Associated Press revealed that Reeves texted Edwards hours after Greene’s arrest saying troopers had participated in a “violent, protracted battle.”
On Tuesday, Reeves said he had a follow-up chat with Edwards about Greene’s death — regarding the original coroner’s findings — but the two didn’t address the subject “in any depth” until late 2020, when media reports of Greene’s maltreatment and a federal civil rights probe arose.
Because of the federal inquiry, the governor has stated that he did not speak out against the troopers’ behavior, despite personally viewing graphic body camera footage of the arrest.
“The governor has faith in the Louisiana State Police to perform their duties,” Reeves said, describing the governor as a “very busy” guy. “Governor Edwards mostly left state police to their own devices.”
Reeves portrayed himself as a hands-off commander who entrusted Greene’s death inquiry to his deputies and detectives, saying that he was far away from a probe riddled with errors.
Reeves stated, “We are going to trust our people until they give us a reason not to believe them.” “We shouldn’t be hunting for someone to do something wrong all of the time.”
Mona Hardin, Greene’s mother, subsequently told the panel that Reeves’ evidence “clearly reveals that you believe you are totally above the law.”
Hardin remarked, “All I can say is the footage speaks for itself.” “There is no other way to look at things than the way we all look at them….” He was beaten to death, trampled on, dragged, and tied and shackled.”
A federal grand jury in Shreveport is hearing testimony in the years-long inquiry into the troopers who arrested Greene and whether police brass obstructed justice to protect them.
Greene died in a vehicle wreck during a high-speed chase near Monroe, state troopers first informed his family and noted in records. Last year, the Associated Press released previously unreleased body-camera footage of soldiers stun-firing Greene, hitting him in the face, and pulling him by his ankle shackles while he shouted, “I’m your brother!” I’m terrified! “I’m terrified!”
Greene’s death was attributed to “physical struggle,” troopers repeatedly shocking him, hitting him in the head, confining him for long periods of time, and Greene’s usage of cocaine, according to a reexamined autopsy commissioned by the FBI last year.
Reeves, on the other hand, argued that the collision was “certainly a significant role” in Greene’s death, despite the fact that he had not viewed the fresh autopsy.
Reeves was grilled by lawmakers on when he first saw the recordings of Greene’s killing. He claimed he and other commanders viewed two of the tapes immediately after Greene’s death, but he didn’t see the third video until it was provided to Greene’s family the following year. Reeves refuted the claim made by the local prosecutor in charge of Greene’s case that the third video, taken by Lt. John Clary’s body camera, was not immediately turned over as evidence.
Clary, the highest-ranking officer at the site of Greene’s death, has been accused of lying about the presence of his own body camera footage. Even though state police exonerated him of guilt after an internal affairs review decided it was unclear if he “purposefully concealed” the film, he remained under federal investigation.