Justice Department opens civil rights probe into Louisiana State Police

The US Department of Justice is opening a wide-ranging civil rights investigation into the Louisiana State Police amid mounting evidence that the agency has a pattern of looking the other way in the face of beatings of mostly black men, including the deadly 2019. Ronald Greene’s arrest.

The federal “standard or practice” investigation announced Thursday followed an Associated Press investigation that found that Greene’s arrest was among at least a dozen cases over the past decade in which state law enforcement officers or their bosses ignored or concealed evidence of beatings, deflected blame and impeded efforts to eradicate misconduct. Dozens of current and former police officers said the beatings were supported by a culture of impunity, nepotism and, in some cases, outright racism.

“We have found significant justification for opening this investigation now… We have received information of the repeated use of excessive force, often against persons suspected of petty traffic offenses, who are already handcuffed or not resisting,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen said. Clarke, who oversees the Justice Department’s civil rights division. She added that there were also reports of soldiers targeting black residents in traffic enforcement and using “racial slurs and racially derogatory terms”.

The federal investigation, the first such action against a state law enforcement agency in more than two decades, comes more than three years after white soldiers were captured on long-detained body camera video stunning and dragging Greene on a road. countryside near Monroe. . Despite lengthy federal and state criminal investigations underway into a death soldiers initially blamed in a car accidentno one was accused.

The AP report found that the soldiers made a habit to turn off or mute body cameras during chases. When the footage is recorded, the agency routinely refuses to release it. And a recently retired supervisor who oversaw a particularly violent group of soldiers told internal investigators last year that it was his “common practice” to stamp officers’ reports of use of force without ever reviewing the body camera video.

In some cases, officers omitted uses of force, such as blows to the head, from official reports, and in others, officers sought to justify their actions by claiming that the suspects were violent, resisting or fleeing, all contradicted by video footage.

Louisiana Police Federal Death Probe Culture
FILE – In this March 2, 2019 image from police dashboard camera video, Louisiana State Trooper Jacob Brown slams driver DeShawn Washington into the hood of a police car during a traffic stop in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana , after soldiers found marijuana in the trunk of Washington’s Car. (Louisiana State Police via AP, Archive)

/AP


“This systemic misconduct has been blessed by the highest echelons of the Louisiana State Police,” said Alanah Odoms, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. She described a “culture of violence, terror and discrimination” within the agency, calling Greene’s death “the tip of the iceberg”.

Clarke said the “standard or practice” civil investigation is aimed at pushing for necessary reforms, if necessary, by suing to implement a federal consent decree. She added that Governor John Bel Edwards and Louisiana State Police Chief Lamar Davis pledged their cooperation. State police did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

Black leaders have been urging the Justice Department for months to launch a broader investigation into potential racial profiling by the mostly white state police, similar to other investigations opened last year in Minneapolis, Louisville and Phoenix.

By his own count, 67 percent of state police uses of force in recent years have been against blacks, who make up 33 percent of the state’s population.

The suit comes as Edwards prepares to testify before a bipartisan panel of state lawmakers investigating Greene’s death. The AP reported last month that the Democratic governor and his lawyers privately watched video showing Greene taking his last breaths during his fatal arrest – footage that didn’t reach prosecutors until nearly two years after Greene’s death on May 10, 2019.

Federal prosecutors are also looking into whether police obstructed justice to protect officers in the Greene case — and whether they tried to hide evidence of officers beating up other black drivers.

State Police Chief at the time of Greene’s arrest, Kevin Reeves, denied that the death was a cover-up, but current commanders told lawmakers investigating the state’s response that it was. The agency’s own use of force expert called what the soldiers did to Greene “torture and murder.”

The AP also found that a former soldier implicated in three separate beatings, Jacob Brown, has recorded 23 uses of force since 2015, 19 of which involved black people. In a case that resulted in federal charges, Brown was seen on body camera video beating Aaron Larry Bowman 18 times with a flashlight after deputies pulled him over for a traffic violation in 2019. State police didn’t investigate the attack until 536 days later, and only did so after a lawsuit against Bowman, who was left with a cut to his head and jaw. broken, ribs and wrist.

“Finally!!!” Bowman’s attorney, Donecia Banks-Miley, said in a text message upon learning of the pattern or practice investigation. “We still need transparency and accountability to help restore the pain that continues to occur with the LSP and other law enforcement agencies.”

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