Louisiana’s top GOP lawmaker weighed taking legislative action Monday against Gov. John Bel Edwards for “gross misconduct and the highest level of deceit” in his response to the deadly 2019 arrest of Ronald Greene.
House Speaker Rep. Clay Schexnayder’s comments followed an Associated Press report that showed the Democratic governor was informed within hours that troopers arresting Greene engaged in a “violent, lengthy struggle," yet he stayed silent for two years as state police told a much different story to the victim’s family and in official reports: that Greene died from a crash after a high-speed chase.
The revelations have united an unusual coalition of Black activists and Republican officials in demanding answers from the governor.
“This would demonstrate gross misconduct and the highest level of deceit on behalf of the governor and others,” Schexnayder said in a statement. “What happened to Ronald Greene is inexcusable and should never happen to anyone. His family and the citizens of the state deserve to know the truth.”
Schexnayder, who said he met over the weekend with the state’s Republican senate president and attorney general, did not elaborate on the options he was considering but noted “we are fully prepared to use the authority granted to us in the constitution of this state.”
Edwards, who was in the midst of a tight reelection campaign at the time of Greene's death, remained publicly tight-lipped about the contradictory accounts and possible cover-up until last May when the AP obtained and published long-withheld body-camera footage showing what really happened on a dark roadside outside Monroe: white troopers jolting Greene with stun guns, punching him in the face and dragging him by his ankle shackles as he pleaded for mercy and wailed, “I’m your brother! I’m scared! I’m scared!”
Edwards’ spokesperson said Monday that it is standard practice for the state police to notify the governor of incidents where a person dies in custody and that he was not aware of the body-camera video of Greene’s arrest until much later, in October 2020.
“From the moment the Governor learned of the allegations and saw the videos, he has consistently said that the actions of the officers in the videos were disturbing and unacceptable and that the matter should be fully investigated,” spokesperson Christina Stephens said. She added that Edwards plans to discuss the matter with the Legislative Black Caucus on Tuesday and take questions from the media afterward.
The public release of the graphic video of Greene's arrest indeed prompted Edwards to finally speak out to condemn the troopers and he later called their actions “criminal.” But the governor, who comes from a long family line of law enforcement officers, also repeated the crash theory and downplayed the actions of the troopers. In one case detailed by the AP, he allegedly argued privately last June against Schexnayder’s proposal for a legislative inquiry into the Greene arrest, telling him there was no need because he “died in a wreck.”
The Republican lawmakers are considering action amid an ongoing federal civil rights investigation of the deadly encounter and whether police brass obstructed justice to protect the troopers who arrested Greene.
AP reported that the FBI has questioned people in recent months about Edwards’ awareness of various aspects of the Greene case, according to law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the probe.
U.S. Attorney Brandon Brown, the top federal prosecutor in Shreveport, and FBI Special Agent in Charge Douglas Williams Jr. in New Orleans issued a statement Monday saying “recent reporting citing sources suggesting that the FBI has questioned people about the awareness of certain facts by Governor John Bel Edwards is inaccurate.”
AP stands by the accuracy of its reporting and has documentation to show such questioning took place.
Sen. Katrina Jackson, a Monroe Democrat, said the state police message to Edwards about Greene’s death was a “standard” heads-up and at that time the governor was not “aware that there was a cover-up in any way.”
“It’s a procedural text and that’s a procedure that goes out on every police-involved fatality,” said Jackson, who is Black. “I think that we can chase something that’s not relevant and miss those who were actually involved.”
Greene’s mother, Mona Hardin, called on Edwards to resign, saying he chose political expedience over justice in a man’s death.
“He needs to go,” Hardin told AP. “He was able to stand aside as all this unfolded and just remain mute. That’s shameful. ... I hate that I’ve been lied to.”
Louisiana NAACP officials issued a statement calling the AP revelations “deeply disturbing.”
“The NAACP finds this severely demonstrates a need for our governor to be fully transparent with our great state. We feel that our governor has seemingly missed the mark so far,” the statement said. "When did you learn the truth, governor?”
Mustian reported from New York; Bleiberg, from Dallas.