Beatings, buried videos a pattern at Louisiana State Police
MONROE, La. (AP) — In one long-buried video, white Louisiana State Police troopers can be seen slamming a Black man against a police cruiser after finding marijuana in his car, throwing him to the ground and repeatedly punching him — all while he is handcuffed.
In another, a white trooper pummels a Black man at a traffic stop 18 times with a flashlight, leaving him with a broken jaw, broken ribs and a gash to his head. That footage was mislabeled and it took 536 days and a lawsuit for police to look into it.
And yet another video shows a white trooper coldcocking a Hispanic drug trafficking suspect as he stood calmly by the highway, an unprovoked attack never mentioned in any report and only investigated when the footage was discovered by an outraged federal judge.
As the Louisiana State Police reel from the fallout of the deadly 2019 arrest of Ronald Greene — a case blown open this year by long-withheld video of troopers stunning, punching and dragging the Black motorist — an Associated Press investigation has revealed it is part of a pattern of violence kept shrouded in secrecy.
An AP review of internal investigative records and newly obtained videos identified at least a dozen cases over the past decade in which Louisiana State Police troopers or their bosses ignored or concealed evidence of beatings, deflected blame and impeded efforts to root out misconduct.
AP’s review — coming amid a widening federal investigation into state police misconduct — found troopers have made a habit of turning off or muting body cameras during pursuits. When footage is recorded, the agency routinely refuses to release it. And a recently retired supervisor who oversaw a particularly violent clique of troopers told internal investigators this year it was his “common practice” to rubber-stamp officers’ use-of-force reports without reviewing body-camera video.
In some cases, troopers omitted uses of force such as blows to the head from official reports, and in others troopers sought to justify their actions by falsely claiming suspects were violent, resisting or escaping.
“Hyper-aggressiveness is winked upon and nodded and allowed to go on,” said Andrew Scott, a former police chief and use-of-force expert who reviewed videos obtained by AP.
Most of those beaten in the cases AP found were Black, in keeping with the agency’s own tally that 67% of its uses of force in recent years have targeted Black people — double the percentage of the state’s Black population.
The revelations come as civil rights and Black leaders urge the U.S. Justice Department to launch a broader, “pattern and practice” investigation into potential systemic racial profiling by the overwhelmingly white state police.
“These things are racially motivated,” said Alanah Odoms, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “It doesn’t seem you could have this level of criminality going on without it being something much more sinister.”
Col. Lamar Davis, the state police superintendent, said in a statement that the agency has completely revised its excessive force policies and practices and implemented numerous reforms in the 11 months since he took office.
“No instance of excessive force is acceptable,” he said, “and when the department learns of such misconduct, an immediate review is launched leading to administrative and/or potential criminal investigations.”
Davis said he doesn’t believe a federal pattern and practice investigation is needed “at this time.” The Justice Department did not answer questions about whether it’s considering one.
The state police have been under intense scrutiny since May when the AP published previously unreleased body camera footage of Greene’s May 10, 2019, arrest at the end of a high-speed chase near Monroe. It showed white troopers stunning, beating and dragging Greene as he pleaded for mercy. It was a jarring rush of images in a death that troopers initially blamed on a car crash and that took 474 days to prompt an internal investigation.
Recently, a federal investigation into Greene’s death was broadened to include allegations of obstruction of justice involving State Police brass. Among the incidents now under scrutiny is the shut-down of a secret panel state police set up to investigate possible systemic abuse of Black motorists.
The panel had been focused on reviewing thousands of hours of body camera footage from about a dozen specific troopers in northern Louisiana’s Troop F. But according to several people familiar with the matter who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity, the panel was abruptly disbanded in July after just a few months’ work following leaks about its existence. State police did not immediately act on the panel’s recommendations, but Davis said the agency has since referred some of the problematic incidents to internal investigators.
One former trooper, Jacob Brown, was perhaps the agency’s most prolifically violent officer in recent years. Records show he tallied 23 uses of force dating to 2015 — 19 on Black people — and he faces charges in three separate beatings.
Video and police records show he beat Aaron Larry Bowman 18 times with a flashlight after deputies pulled him over for a traffic violation near his Monroe home in May 2019. State police didn’t investigate the attack until 536 days later, and only did so after Bowman filed a lawsuit.
Another video from 2019 showed Brown involved in the 2019 arrest of marijuana suspect Morgan Blake, who was slammed against a police cruiser, thrown to the ground and beaten by two other troopers. Brown later falsely claimed that Blake had tried to escape.
AP also obtained previously unreleased footage of a state trooper hitting a Hispanic truck driver in 2010 along Interstate 12 in Tangipahoa Parish, north of New Orleans.
The federal judge who sentenced the truck driver on drug charges was so troubled by the use of force, which was not listed in any police report, that he wrote letters to prosecutors and Col. Mike Edmonson, then-superintendent of the state police.
Edmonson ultimately suspended Trooper Jason LaMarca for 12 hours, a punishment that was later overturned on appeal.