by Jayson Hawkins
Increasing attention to excessive police force has hopscotched across the country in recent years as one city after another found itself in the spotlight for incidents of police brutality that were caught on film or glaring dishonesty by cops was made public. Troopers from the Louisiana State Police (“LSP”) have now come under fire for excessive force and dishonesty after a video surfaced of troopers fatally beating a suspect who they later reported having died in a car wreck.
Ronald Greene was arrested by state police after a high-speed chase in 2019. Video withheld for over a year shows troopers stunning, punching, and dragging Greene. The white troopers in the video left Greene, who was Black, shackled and facedown on the side of the road. The video shows Greene pleading with troopers, “I’m your brother. I’m scared! I’m scared!” Greene subsequently died in custody. Troopers initially said he died in the wreck that ended the high-speed chase, but nearly a year and a half after the incident, the video surfaced and spawned public outcry and an internal investigation.
The attention inspired both the federal government and the Associated Press to take a closer look at the Louisiana State Police, and as a result of those inquiries, a pattern of excessive force, fudged paperwork, and concealed videos has been discovered.
In March 2019, a trooper in Ouachita Parish is caught on dashcam footage grabbing a Black marijuana suspect by his hair and slamming him into the hood of the trooper’s cruiser. Mention of the use of force was omitted from the arrest report. The more video that was reviewed by investigators, the worse the problem appeared. The following incidents, also occurring in 2019, caught the attention of those conducting the investigation: a white motorist was beat until he had to be hospitalized for kidney failure; a Black man was dragged out of a cornfield by his hair; and a drug suspect was sucker punched while he stood handcuffed on the side of the road. In one of the videos which received the most attention from media, Aaron Larry Bowman was struck 18 times with a flashlight and hospitalized with a broken jaw, wrist, and ribs.
Prior to the investigation, many of these videos had been filed in the wrong place, hidden in supervisors’ desk drawers, or not even cataloged. One regional troop commander told investigators that he routinely approved use of force documents without reviewing body camera footage. Critics of the LSP see the findings as confirmation of long-standing complaints. “Driving while Black is still a crime in Louisiana,” said the president of the NAACP in Baton Rouge, adding that the investigation “proves our assertion that our communities are woefully over-policed.”
The recent attention focused on Louisiana has led to federal investigations and state charges against several troopers. Officer Jacob Brown, for example, indicted on charges for beating Bowman, faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if he is convicted, according to prosecutors.It is unclear if the furor is going to lead to substantial changes across the agency, or if as in many other places that have had their turn in the spotlight, corruption and brutality will continue at previous levels after the moment passes.
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