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Gov. Edwards will testify before lawmakers on handling of Ronald Greene incident

Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-Louisiana)

Gov. John Bel Edwards, along with top administration officials, will testify before a Louisiana House committee investigating the violent death of Ronald Greene in Louisiana State Police custody.

Edwards' announcement Wednesday evening followed a public request from House Speaker Clay Schexnayder earlier in the day.

“The [special committee] was created to search for the truth,” Schexnayder said in a press release Wednesday. “That search for truth has continually led us to serious questions that can only be answered by Governor John Bel Edwards and his executive staff.”

In addition to Edwards, the request to appear extended to Executive Counsel Matthew Block and Special Counsel Tina Vanichachagorn, who was the first person in the Edwards administration to view bodycam footage of Greene’s arrest, according to testimony from officials.

Block confirmed in a letter to Speaker Pro Tem Tanner Magee, chairman of the special committee, that the governor and staff would appear as requested.“We are confident that this testimony will demonstrate that neither the Governor nor anyone on his staff had any role in any attempt to cover up the facts related to Mr. Greene’s death,” Block wrote.

The special committee investigating Greene’s death was formed earlier this year when reporting by the Associated Press revealed that former Louisiana State Police Superintendent Col. Kevin Reeves notified Gov. Edwards of the death of a then-unnamed individual in state police custody after a “violent, lengthy struggle” with state troopers.

Edwards has consistently denied any wrongdoing in his handling of the incident and said he purposefully avoided involving himself in the subsequent investigation. Edwards said he did not connect the text message he received from Reeves to Greene’s brutal beating until more than a year later when Greene’s family filed a civil lawsuit.

Edwards initially characterized the House’s foray into investigating the incident “an absolute witch hunt with no basis in fact,” but later reversed course, saying he welcomed the legislative oversight.

If Edwards complies with the request, it will be the first time that he or any administration officials testify before this House committee on the handling of the incident.

No witnesses have implicated Edwards in a coverup, but committee members have raised questions about when Edwards administration officials and the governor himself were made aware of and viewed bodycam footage of troopers beating, tasing and pepper-spraying Ronald Greene as he lay shackled on the ground.

Over several months, the bipartisan committee has largely focused its investigative efforts on the Louisiana State Police, securing testimony from current and former officers who had a role in the agency at the time of Greene’s fatal arrest and during the initial investigation into the incident.

One pattern has emerged from the special committee’s investigation: top officials with Louisiana State Police have denied any coverup and minimized the wrongdoing of the troopers involved while rank-and-file troopers have testified the exact opposite.

In March, Sgt. Scott Davis, a use of force expert with the Louisiana State Police, characterized Greene’s violent arrest as “torture and murder.” Yet, retired Sgt. Albert Paxton, the state police detective who conducted the initial investigation into Greene’s death, told the committee that superiors did not support a criminal case against the troopers who beat, tased, and pepper-sprayed the shackled Greene. Lt. Scott Brown, Paxton’s supervisor at the time, said Col. Kevin Reeves asked him to conceal evidence.

Reeves, who was the Superintendent of the Louisiana State Police at the time of Greene’s death in May 2019, retired from the agency in October 2020, as the violent circumstances of Greene’s death began to emerge.

Members of Greene’s family said state police officials told them that Greene died in a car crash. During Wednesday’s committee hearing Dr. Frank Peretti, the Arkansas coroner who conducted Greene’s first autopsy said in a written statement that state police provided him with a similar narrative. When Peretti said injuries to Greene’s head were inconsistent with a motor vehicle accident, state police officials claimed they were made by “tree branches,” making no mention of the repeated blows troopers delivered to Greene’s head with a flashlight.

More than three years after Greene’s death, no criminal charges have been brought against the troopers involved. John Belton, the district attorney for Union Parish, said he plans to convene a special grand jury to seek criminal indictments of the officers involved in the incident. Recent reports from the Associated Press suggest that a federal investigation into possible violations of Greene’s civil rights has stalled.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.

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