BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards trusted Louisiana State Police to “do the right thing” and took a hands-off approach in police matters, even after Black motorist Ronald Greene died in a violent confrontation with troopers following a high-speed chase, the former head of the agency told state lawmakers Tuesday.
Kevin Reeves distanced himself — and the Democratic governor — from the investigation of Greene’s 2019 death during a three-hour bipartisan grilling that included accusations of racism and gross negligence by the state's premier law enforcement agency.
The hearing became heated at times as lawmakers expressed incredulity and frustration in Reeves' demurrals and refusal to condemn the white troopers captured on body camera video punching, stunning and dragging Greene during his fatal arrest on a rural roadside in northeast Louisiana.
Lawmakers alternatively described his disengagement as “unacceptable” and “suspicious” and promised to continue digging into the case.
But Reeves was unbowed, insisting he will one day face God with a clear conscience: “I can tell you right now that I will not have to account for participating in a cover-up of the death of Mr. Ronald Greene."
Reeves, who stepped down in late 2020 amid criticism over his handling of the Greene case, acknowledged characterizing the arrest as “awful but lawful” and persisted in saying a car crash likely contributed to Greene's death, waving off a revised autopsy commissioned by the FBI that rejected that theory.
He also revealed he kept a journal with contemporaneous notes even after retiring as superintendent but would not commit to providing them to the special committee investigating the state’s handling of Greene's death. “My journal is my personal business,” he said, “and I'm not here to discuss it.”
The eight-member panel was convened last month after The Associated Press reported that Reeves texted Edwards hours after the fact that troopers arresting Greene had engaged in a “violent, lengthy struggle.”
On Tuesday, Reeves recalled having a follow-up conversation with Edwards about Greene's death — concerning the initial coroner's findings — but said the two did not discuss the case “in any depth” until late 2020, when word of Greene's mistreatment and a federal civil rights investigation surfaced in media accounts.
The governor has said he did not speak out about the troopers’ actions — even after privately watching graphic body camera footage of the arrest — because of the federal investigation.
“The governor trusted that Louisiana State Police were going to do their jobs,” Reeves told the committee, describing the governor as a “very busy” man. “Gov. Edwards generally left state police to do their business.”
Reeves cast himself as a hands-off leader who similarly trusted his deputies and detectives to investigate Greene’s death, insisting he was far removed from an investigation that included a host of irregularities.
“We are going to trust our people until they give us a reason not to trust them,” Reeves said. “We should not constantly be looking for someone to do something wrong."
Greene's mother, Mona Hardin, told the panel later that Reeves' testimony “clearly shows that you think you are way above the law.”
“All I can say is the video speaks it all,” Hardin said. “There is no other way of seeing things than the way we all see it. ... He was literally beaten to death, stomped, dragged while chained and shackled.”
Reeves' testimony came as a federal grand jury in Shreveport is hearing testimony in the yearslong investigation of the troopers who arrested Greene and whether police brass obstructed justice to protect them.
State troopers initially told Greene’s family and wrote in reports that he died as the result of a car crash after a high-speed chase outside Monroe. But AP last year published long-withheld body-camera video showing troopers jolting Greene with stun guns, punching him in the face and dragging him by his ankle shackles as he wailed, “I’m your brother! I’m scared! I’m scared!”
A reexamined autopsy commissioned by the FBI rejected the crash theory last year, attributing Greene’s death to “physical struggle,” troopers repeatedly stunning him, striking him in the head, restraining him at length and Greene’s use of cocaine.
Reeves, however, insisted he believed the crash "would definitely be a contributing factor” in Greene's death and said he has not seen the new autopsy.
Lawmakers questioned Reeves closely about when he first viewed the videos of Greene's death. He said he and other commanders watched two of the videos soon after Greene's death but he only saw a third video that showed more of what happened the next year when it was shown to Greene's family. Reeves disputed the contention by the local prosecutor handling Greene's case that the third video, recorded by the body camera of Lt. John Clary, was not initially turned over with evidence.
Clary, the highest-ranking official at the scene of Greene’s death, was accused of falsely denying the existence of his own body camera video. He remains under federal investigation even after state police cleared him of wrongdoing after an internal affairs investigation determined it was unclear whether he "purposefully withheld” the footage.
Bleiberg reported from Dallas.