Activists: Charge Louisiana troopers in Black man’s death

May 27, 2021 GMT
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People hod signs during a rally outside the state capitol before a planned march to the Governor's mansion, protesting the death of Ronald Greene, who died in the custody of Louisiana State Police in 2019, in Baton Rouge, La., Thursday, May 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
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People hod signs during a rally outside the state capitol before a planned march to the Governor's mansion, protesting the death of Ronald Greene, who died in the custody of Louisiana State Police in 2019, in Baton Rouge, La., Thursday, May 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana State Police troopers involved in the violent arrest of a Black motorist who died in police custody in 2019 should be immediately fired and charged with crimes, leaders of the National Urban League and other civil rights groups said Thursday.

Marc Morial, the national president of the Urban League and a former mayor of New Orleans, was joined by representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP and other state and local groups in calling for action during an online news conference. Later in the day, protesters rallied at the state Capitol and marched to the governor’s mansion to seek justice for Ronald Greene.

Their demands came just a week after The Associated Press obtained and published body camera video that appears to contradict at least one trooper’s statement that Greene continued to be a threat even after he was restrained, and that his behavior was the reason troopers used force.

“After seeing that video, no reasonable person could come to any other conclusion ... than a crime has been committed by Louisiana state troopers,” said Morial, who during the news conference played a separate AP video report that included an interview with an expert on police use of force.

Civil rights attorney Ron Haley added, “Make no mistake: Ron Greene was murdered at the hands of Louisiana State Police.”

Greene’s death is already under investigation by state and federal authorities. It also is the subject of a lawsuit. Morial said state police should fire and arrest the troopers involved.

Asked for a response, state police Capt. Nick Manale said in an email that the troopers involved “have already received internal discipline while awaiting the results of the federal review.” He said the state police force continues to cooperate in the investigation and is “confident in the judicial system and fair review of this incident.”

Greene’s mother, Mona Hardin, appeared at the news conference with family attorney Lee Merritt. Merritt said they had met with a state legislator and have appealed to the governor’s office and district attorney to ask a judge to issue an arrest warrant for the troopers. Merritt said they were told to trust the process and await the results of the federal inquiry.

“No one has delivered any specific action,” Merritt said. “We believe in equal protection under the law. And we know if a white citizen, a fellow police officer, the governor’s child, had met the same end that Ronald Greene met, there would be action by now.”

Union Parish District Attorney John Belton did not immediately respond to a telephone message and an emailed request for comment.

Hardin thanked Morial and others attending the news conference.

“We need help,” she said. “We need someone’s attention ... to move these mountains.”

On Thursday afternoon, more than 100 people including activists and members of Greene’s family, gathered on the steps of the state Capitol in Baton Rouge to request justice for Greene. Speakers reiterated their demands for the troopers’ arrest and some blasted Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards for allowing the body camera video to be held from the public for two years.

“The governor is making a deliberate decision not to tell the head of state police to make an arrest,” asserted Gary Chambers, an activist and unsuccessful candidate for Congress last year.

After more than an hour of speeches in withering heat, protesters moved to the governor’s mansion, where angry speakers took turns addressing the crowd. At one point, about a dozen people, nearly all men, armed with long guns and wearing New Black Panther Party patches on their shirts, showed up and stood at the edge of the street, their backs to the gate in front of the mansion’s driveway.

Police at first kept their distance, parked at intersections roughly 100 yards (91 meters) away in either direction. As the marchers moved away from the mansion, a state police car escorted them. One group of marchers briefly blocked a nearby interstate on-ramp before continuing into the city. While the rhetoric was sometimes heated, the protests remained peaceful.

The video obtained by the AP and later released by state police shows troopers stunning, beating and choking Greene, 49, following an automobile chase and crash in northeast Louisiana in May 2019.

Greene’s family was initially told that he died in the car crash. State police later issued a brief statement acknowledging there was a struggle with officers and that Greene died on the way to the hospital.

The video shows troopers converging on Greene’s car outside Monroe, Louisiana, after a high-speed chase that followed an unspecified traffic violation. Troopers can be seen repeatedly jolting the 49-year-old unarmed man with stun devices, putting him in a chokehold, punching him in the head and dragging him by his ankle shackles.

He also was placed facedown on the ground for more than nine minutes while restrained — a tactic use-of-force experts criticized as dangerous and likely to have restricted his breathing.

An autopsy cited the restraint and an “inflicted head injury” as factors in Greene’s death, along with cocaine-induced delirium and other injuries that might have been the result of the car crash.

News conference participants said Greene’s treatment points to the need for passage of a national police reform bill known as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would ban chokeholds, include prohibitions on no-knock police raids like the one in Louisville, Kentucky, that killed Breonna Taylor, and create a national registry for officers who are disciplined for serious misconduct, among other proposals. It has been passed by the House but is stalled in a closely divided Senate.

They also called for passage of police reforms at the state level, including an end to “qualified immunity” — protection from lawsuits for police officers and others for actions they take in the course of their work — and a review of Louisiana’s “police officers’ bill of rights,” which provides legal protections for officers accused of wrongdoing.