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After AP report, Gov. John Bel Edwards denies misconduct in Ronald Greene death case

Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks at the statehouse in Baton Rouge.
Wallis Watkins
Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks at the statehouse in Baton Rouge.

Governor John Bel Edwards denied reports that he interfered with the investigation into the May 2019 arrest and death of Ronald Greene to aid his reelection campaign in a Tuesday press conference and said he never corroborated the inaccurate Louisiana State Police account of the incident, in which LSP claimed that Greene died of injuries sustained in a car crash.

Edwards held the press conference in response to findings from an Associated Press investigation that found that Edwards knew the truth about Ronald Greene’s death “within hours” of the deadly May 2019 arrest. The report alleges that Edwards remained silent for two years as the State Police told Louisianans and Greene’s family that Greene died of injuries he sustained when his vehicle crashed.

The governor arrived at the press conference after a “very serious” meeting with the state’s Legislative Black Caucus and began by condemning the actions of the LSP troopers who beat Greene to death, saying the troopers “committed criminal acts.”

The Associated Press released the bombshell report Friday, which hints that Edwards avoided talking about Greene’s death because he didn’t want the controversial incident to interfere with his reelection campaign. Since then, the governor has received criticism from other Louisiana politicians and the Greene family.

Edwards denied allegations that he or anyone in his office tried to cover up the circumstances surrounding Greene’s death, saying that the federal Department of Justice asked him not to discuss Greene’s death or share videos of the incident publicly in Sept. 2020 because it could interfere with the DOJ investigation into the matter.

“If I was interfering with the investigation because of the election, how does it make sense that the videos and the investigative files were turned over to the DA and to the Trump Department of Justice a month and a half before the election in 2019? It doesn't make sense,” Edwards said. “That is not who I am as a person.”

Edwards also denied AP’s report that he misled the public about the cause of Greene’s death. The AP reported that Edwards went along with LSP’s claim that Greene’s death was attributable to the car crash.

He called the report “categorically false.”

Body-camera footage obtained by the Associated Press helped show the public what really happened that night. In the video, officers beat Greene, attacked him with stun guns and dragged him by shackles placed on his ankles.

An autopsy said Greene died due to "cocaine induced agitated delirium complicated by motor vehicle collision, physical struggle, inflicted head injury and restraint," according to the AP.

“At no time have I said to anyone, in public or in private, that Mr. Greene died in a car wreck,” he said. “There was obviously a pursuit, a high-speed chase, a crash, and then he was taken into custody outside of the vehicle. He then died. I have never said, as has been attributed to me, that he died in the car.”

Edwards then added that if anyone did say that Greene had died in the car accident, “they lied.”

 A text message about Ronald Greene's death from May 2019 between then State Police Superintendent Kevin Reeves and Gov. John Bel Edwards. Provided by the Governor's Office.
A text message about Ronald Greene's death from May 2019 between then State Police Superintendent Kevin Reeves and Gov. John Bel Edwards. Provided by the Governor's Office.

These reports of misconduct became public when AP obtained a text message between Edwards and then-LSP Superintendent Col. Kevin Reeves about the incident with Greene a few hours after his death in 2019. The message didn’t mention Greene’s name but included details about the “violent, lengthy struggle” with troopers.

Edwards said he was made aware of the “serious allegations against the State Police troopers” on Sept. 20, 2020, when Greene’s family filed civil litigation on the matter. He said he didn’t know about troopers beating Greene until he was informed of the DOJ investigation in October 2020.

After being denied to show the footage to the public, the governor spoke with the DOJ about showing the videos of Greene’s arrest to members of Greene’s family and of the Legislative Black Caucus, and the DOJ allowed it. The small audience watched the videos in a courtroom on Oct. 14, 2020. Edwards first watched the videos “only a few days before.”

“In 2019, all I knew was that an incident had occurred and that it was being investigated,” Edwards said. “That text was one of many notifications that I received from Colonel Reeves about any number of different issues on a regular basis.”

The governor said he trusted LSP to handle the investigation until the DOJ stepped in. When he found out about the investigation, Edwards let the DOJ handle it.

“I do not believe (that) myself or any governor should ever be involved in directing criminal investigations,” he said.

Since it was made public that Edwards knew about the situation shortly after Greene died in state trooper custody, the governor has come under fire from Greene’s family, civil rights advocates and state officials.

Edwards said he hasn’t talked with Greene’s family since the recent AP report was published, but that he has spoken with Greene’s mother, Mona Hardin, twice since his death. Hardin called for the governor’s resignation in the days following the AP report.

The state’s top Republican lawmaker has also entered the fray. House Speaker Rep. Clay Schexnayder accused Edwards of “gross misconduct and the highest level of deceit” Monday, and suggested taking legislative action against the governor, starting with an investigation.

Edwards responded to Schexnayder’s comments, saying that Schexnayder was “absolutely wrong” and that he’s been “consistent and clear” with Schexnayder since after he discovered the truth about what happened to Greene. He added that his relationship with Schexnayder has been “strained” since last summer’s veto override session.

When asked whether he would welcome an investigation into his involvement and knowledge about the case, Edwards said such an investigation would be “an absolute witch hunt with no basis in fact.”
Copyright 2022 WRKF. To see more, visit WRKF.

Aubry is a reporter, producer and operations assistant in Baton Rouge.

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