The Justice Department on Thursday opened a sweeping investigation into the Louisiana State Police over allegations that officers used excessive force and engaged in racially discriminatory conduct, including the fatal beating of Ronald Greene, a Black motorist, in 2019.
Officials said the probe of the 1,200-member police force – the agency’s first federal review of a statewide law enforcement agency in two decades – will include a comprehensive review of policies, training, supervision and systems of accountability.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who oversees the civil rights division, said the department’s preliminary review, based on publicly available information and reports from local advocates, has found “significant justification to investigate whether Louisiana State Police engages in excessive force and engages in racially discriminatory policing against Black residents and other people of color.”
She cited reports that state troopers had used racial slurs, employed stun gun in unwarranted circumstances and used excessive force against people in relatively minor traffic incidents or who were already handcuffed or not resisting.
Louisiana State Police officials did not respond to requests for comment.
The announcement comes amid mounting demands from Black state lawmakers and civil rights activists that the federal government intervene. The FBI has been conducting a criminal civil rights investigation into the circumstances of Greene’s death since 2020.
Footage from a state trooper’s body camera, leaked to the Associated Press last year, showed officers beating, dragging and shocking Greene, 49, with a stun gun while he apologized to them after a high-speed chase in Monroe, La.
The Louisiana case marks the Biden administration’s fifth “pattern or practice” probe into local police agencies, following ongoing reviews in Minneapolis, Louisville, Ky., Phoenix and Mount Vernon, N.Y., that began last year. In April, Justice officials announced a consent decree settlement with the Springfield, Mass., police after an investigation that began during the Trump administration found a pattern of unconstitutional conduct from the narcotics bureau.
Greene’s case, in particular, has been the focus of mounting public scrutiny. State police reportedly told Greene’s family he died on impact after driving into a tree, and only later acknowledging publicly that he had struggled with officers during the arrest. The state police refused for two years to release officers’ body-camera footage of the incident.
Louisiana state Democratic Rep. Edmond Jordan, a member of the bipartisan legislative committee that is investigating Greene’s death, said lawmakers are growing impatient for federal or state criminal charges to be brought in the case.
Of the civil investigation, Jordan said he is hoping for relatively swift action, although pattern and practice probes typically take more than a year to complete. Most have resulted in court-approved consent decrees that require local police to enact reforms on specified timeline.
“I understand it takes time, but I also understand the state police are cooperating fully from what we were told today,” Jordan said. “Swift is a relative term. But I would hope we would get that because my fear is if takes too long, then are we really going to see any change, and what will happen in the interim?”
Justice officials said they have informed Louisiana Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and state police Superintendent Lamar Davis of the investigation, which will be managed by the civil rights division in coordination with U.S. attorneys offices in the state.
Edwards’s involvement in Greene’s case has come under scrutiny. The Associated Press reported last month that the governor and his top lawyers had viewed body-camera footage of Greene’s arrest as early as October 2020, even though prosecutors and detectives did not know of the footage for another six months.
Edwards has denied that he made any efforts to delay or obstruct investigators in the case. He agreed last week to testify before the state legislative committee that is investigating Greene’s death.
In January, the Justice Department released a statement acknowledging the ongoing FBI probe in the case but flatly denying that federal agents had asked witnesses specifically about Edwards’s role.