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Archive for March, 2022

The one overriding, indisputable fact that keeps surfacing in the ongoing testimony in that House committee investigating the death of Ronald Greene is this: someone is lying.

I don’t mean some innocent, “that’s not what I meant” kind of white lie or simple omission of fact; I’m talking about bald-face, through-the-teeth lies uttered by members of what is supposed to be the shining light on the hill of Louisiana law enforcement: Louisiana State Police (LSP).

The lies are so obvious that one observer suggested that perhaps the committee would have been wise to sequester the witnesses so that they would not be able to hear – and subsequently support – their co-workers’ prevarications in their own testimony.

There also can be no mistake that the wagons have been circled by LSP and that no effort will be spared to lay the blame for the death of Ronald Greene and the subsequent cover-up at the feet of the one trooper unable to defend himself and a group of LSP investigators and former investigators who attempted to do their jobs by conducting a real investigation.

Sgt. Albert Paxton, who has since resigned in disgust, testified last week that, “Any time I raised any concerns (about what happened on the night of May 10, 2019), they got mad.” He said he was told that he needed “to shut up [and] don’t talk about it anymore.”

He said he was warned by fellow investigator Det. Scott Brown of the potential fallout from the investigation. “Scott told me, ‘You know what rolls downhill …and they’re gonna want somebody to blame and they’re gonna blame us.’”

Paxton said he disagreed with former LSP Superintendent Kevin Reeves’s assessment of Greene’s death as “awful, but lawful.” He said what happened to Greene was instead “torture and murder.”

So, just who was it that told him to forget about investigating the circumstances surrounding Greene’s death? Capt. John Peters (the commander of Troop F in Monroe) told Paxton and another detective, Scott Brown, “If the investigation led to any arrests, there’d be trouble with BOI (Bureau of Investigation) and patrol,” Paxton told the committee.

He added that Peters said, “We don’t turn these videos over and we don’t tell the DA (District Attorney John Belton) about it.”

That is obstruction of justice, any way you slice it.

Paxton said he is convinced that if he’d complied with Peters’ directive, “we’d all be in jail today.”

Committee Chairman Rep. Tanner Magee (R-Houma) later returned to that issue when he asked Brown, “Did anyone ask you to conceal evidence?”

“Yessir,” Brown replied.

“Did you tell Col. Reeves?”

“Yessir.”

“Was this in a meeting that Albert Paxton referred to.”

“Who asked you to conceal evidence?” asked committee member Edmond Jordan (D-Brusly).

“John Peters,” Brown replied.

He added that when Reeves was told about investigators being asked not to provide evidence to the district attorney, “He (Reeves) was upset because his son (also a state trooper) was in the room.”

Paxton noted that Maj. Chavez Cammon and Maj. Kenny Van Buren were present during the discussion of the surfacing of the John Clary video and both were subsequently promoted to lieutenant colonel rank by current State Police Superintendent Lamar Davis.

Rep. Debbie Villio, a former prosecuting attorney, noted that she felt like the committee “finally heard from a witness today who is wholly credible.”

LSP command appears to be trying to shift blame for the entire matter onto former Trooper Chris Hollingsworth who was fired for his role and a few days later died from injuries suffered in a single-vehicle accident that some have said was a case of suicide.

The time-honored tradition of shooting the messenger is also in play as those charged with investigating Greene’s death have themselves become targets of an inter-agency investigation.

That, more than any other factor, is the reason Paxton has since retired from LSP. Responding to charges that his was simply a case of a disgruntled employee, he admitted he was bitter. “I was coming forward. I raised concerns about the incident. They went through my emails and wanted to know why I emailed my wife copies of my reports.

“She’s an attorney and an accountant. She proofs all my reports. She’s done that for 14 years. They harassed her and wanted to play word games with her. Then they wanted to pay word games with me. I’m very upset at the way my wife was treated. I’m retired now. The videos are still there. You tell the people who’re saying this about me to take the case over. Tell them to watch the videos and explain to you how they think they’re okay.”

“Don’t blame my detectives,” he said. “My detectives did what they thought they should have been doing – which they’ve done countless times. They asked for all the video.” Then, referring to LSP command, he said, “Shame on you if we can’t trust you.”

Paxton also said it appeared suspicious to him that state police cell phones were turned in during an investigation. “I wouldn’t want to do it,” he said.

Faye Morrison, formerly the general counsel for LSP, denied that she was ever advised that phones issued to her, Reeves, his one-time chief of staff Mike Noel, and Lt. Col. Doug Cain were being “sanitized.”

Reeves and Noel had retired, but Cain and Morrison are still with state police, raising questions as to why their phones would need to be erased. And Reeves claims his private cell phone was “crushed,” destroying any data it contained. C’mon, seriously?

Noel testified that he was unaware that texts on his phone might be considered evidence.

That would seem to raise immediate questions about his qualifications to serve as a state trooper. All officers have to know that cell phone data is evidence. If that does not raise questions, it certainly should raise doubts as to the veracity of his testimony.

And how could Morrison not have knowledge of the sanitization of the phones when her own phone was erased just about the time litigation was being filed over Greene’s death?

It should be noted that like Reeves, most LSP personnel used their personal cell phones for texting, which in turn raises two more questions: why is this practice allowed (see Hillary Clinton)? And why haven’t those private phone messages been subpoenaed?

A third question that has been answered to no one’s satisfaction is this: if, as Faye Morrison testified, all such data (texts, emails, etc.) are backed up on a document management and storage system such as SharePoint, why has there been no effort to retrieve said data?

And a fourth question: Where the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association figure in all of this mess?

There’s just something about this blue wall of protection that doesn’t pass the smell test.

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It’s a strange feeling to look up one day and realize that you’re no longer the young, carefree guy whose main interests in life were cars, girls, and sports, that you’ve become not just your dad, but your granddad.

As many of you know by now, I was raised by my paternal grandparents. We didn’t have much, but three things that were never lacking were food, shelter, and love. Abandoned by my mother when I was 18 months old, I was rescued by these wonderful people. While because of their own limited educations, they were unable to contribute much in the way of help with homework, they were able to instill a few values that have proven to be far superior to a formal education.

I have never known a man who could work harder than my grandfather, whether it was growing vegetables which me managed to give away to friends rather than sell or the backbreaking work of concrete finishing.

If you’ve never tried your hand at concrete finishing, you cannot begin to appreciate the hard labor involved. I’ve seen my granddad construct concrete walls, driveways and other structures that still exist in Ruston. I, on the other hand, once dug out, formed up, poured and finished a simple sidewalk about 20 feet in length and I thought it was going to kill me.

He was also a pretty fair butcher. Every fall, he’d butcher hogs and make some of the best damn sausage you ever tasted. He had no license to do so and today, the health department would probably shut him down. Back then, his customers included the mayor and the chief of police.

A teetotaler, he nevertheless found it necessary to do a little bootlegging during the Great Depression in order to support his family. But if he thought a man couldn’t afford the booze and was depriving his family, he wouldn’t sell to him. Once, he was brought before a city judge in Ruston and fined $10 for his bootlegging activities. Stubborn as always, he refused to pay the fine. The judge paid the fine out of his own pocket.

He was stubborn and he bootlegged, but he also had a side that few ever saw. Once, when I was a kid, I was riding with him in downtown Ruston. He spotted a black couple pushing a child in a wheelchair across the street. He abruptly stopped, got out of his truck, walked across the street and handed the child $5 that I know he couldn’t afford. This was the fifties, after all, and five dollars wasn’t chump change. He didn’t see a black child or a white child – he saw a little girl in a wheelchair. He never said a word as he got back into the truck.

He also never said a word another time but he taught me a lesson that has stayed with me. He had purchased a candy bar for me and as we rode down the street, I tore the wrapper off, and tossed it out the window. I felt a pop on the back of my head and I saw Jesus waving me to the light. Like I said, he never uttered a word. But to this day, I will not throw so much as a gum wrapper out of my vehicle nor will I allow any passenger in my vehicle to do so.

I’ve not mentioned my dad much and there’s a reason for that which I won’t go into. But he was a pretty fair boxer, I’m told. Once, while he was still in high school, a carnival came to town. One of the attractions was a boxer and the promoters were offering $100 to anyone who could stay with him three rounds.

My dad decided it was worth a shot for $100, so he paid the fee and entered. He knocked out the carnival boxer in the first round and the promoter refused payment because he didn’t stay three rounds. My dad went home and got my granddad, a man not to be trifled with. They returned to the carnival and got the hundred bucks.

Once, during my own high school days, there was a girl whose family was even poorer than mine. She was quiet and shy and I walked into study hall as several boys were playing keep-away with her purse. As I entered the room, they assumed (incorrectly) that I wanted to play their game, so they passed the purse to me. I walked over and gave it to her. I took a lot of grief from those guys for that but my little gesture meant something to her. The school football coach, L.J. “Hoss” Garrett, called my granddad and told him about the incident. It was the only time I ever saw him cry.

He lost a leg to diabetes at age 75 and died a year later, in 1971. My dad died in 1993.

I’m 78 and when I look in the mirror today, I see an out-of-shape old man with sagging skin, gray hair, failing eyesight and hearing, no muscle tone, and no physical stamina. I am forced to sit and rest after any simple, strenuous exercise as time has robbed me of what little strength and endurance I once had.

Where my granddad worked full-bore right up until the doctors took his leg, my contribution consisted of performing paperwork such as billing for concrete work for him. I now find I have to call on my sons-in-law and my grandsons to perform tasks that I should be able to do for myself while I am reduced to pecking away at a keyboard.

I suppose it’s called the life cycle. Someday, my grandchildren will be looking at their own grandchildren in the same manner while wondering, as I do, why we are robbed of our physical and mental skills as we age.

It is now my cherished dream that they can one day look back on their relationships with me with the same affection and fond memories as I now reflect in a like manner on my relationship with my own grandfather.

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I first began paying close attention to Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominees with the Clarence Thomas debacle back in September 1991. Fast forward to March 2017 when I was again drawn to the soap opera of confirmation hearings for Donald Trump’s nominatee, Neil Gorsuch.

If you will remember, Mitch McConnell invoked the so-called “Biden Rule” in blocking Barack Obama’s efforts to fill the vacancy created by the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia in March 2016 because it was “too near” the 2016 presidential election.

Not quite two years later, in September 2018, there were the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings and things started to really get nasty.

Then, less than two months before the 2020 election, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and even though the vacancy created by her death was five months closer to the election date than Scalia’s death had been, McConnell nevertheless saw fit to ram Trump’s nominee Amy Coney Barrett through before she could even be fitted for her robe – perhaps because even the Sleeping Turtle could see that Trump’s reelection campaign was in deep trouble.

And now, we are again treated to the drama of confirmation hearings for yet another similar spectacle, this time Joe Biden’s nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson to succeed retiring Associate Justice Stephen Breyer.

All of which leads me to three major points:

  1. Hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee serve only as a national stage on which pontificating peacocks from both parties are given the opportunity to strut and to appear sage and important while accomplishing nothing more than making complete idiots of themselves. (Did I say both parties? I meant both parties.)
  2. If we vetted members of Congress as thoroughly and as savagely as we do Supreme Court justices, probably fewer than 10 percent of its 535 combined membership could qualify for their positions (and I’m being generous at 10 percent). If we vetted members of Congress as thoroughly and as savagely as we do Supreme Court Justices, then maybe – just maybe – two members of Louisiana’s eight combined House and Senate members would qualify (at 25 percent, that could be a tad on the high side).
  3. Perhaps we should give serious consideration to a constitutional amendment that would allow Supreme Court justices to confirm the nominations of members of Congress. Seriously, could they do any worse?

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Another wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against troubled LaSalle Corrections of Ruston after an inmate at Catahoula Correctional Center in Harrisonburg after an inmate on suicide watch managed to obtain and smoke poisonous insecticide and died eight days later.

Also named as defendants in the wrongful death of Javan Kennerson were Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, Catahoula Parish Sheriff Toney Edwards, Catahoula Correctional Center, and a host of employees of the facility.

Kennerson was in the ninth year of a 20-year sentence for an unspecified offense.

The lawsuit, filed in the Western District of U.S. Federal Court, claims that “Since 2015, dozens of incarcerated people have died in LaSalle facilities due to lack of treatment or delay of treatment of their medical conditions.” At least nine of those deaths were attributed to suicide, the petition filed by Jennifer Barthe, Kennerson’s mother, says.

Of the nine suicides cited by the lawsuit, seven were in Texas facilities and the other two in Louisiana (Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield and Richwood Correctional Center in Richwood in Ouachita Parish).

The lawsuit says that auditors observed “numerous instances” in which LaSalle was not in compliance with timely cell checks or observations of mentally ill and suicidal incarcerated people.” These included:

  • The Department of Homeland Security Office of Detention and Oversight found that LaSalle’s River Correctional Center failed to conduct observations of an individual who was on suicide watch in May 2021;
  • In October 2020, LaSalle’s Winn Correctional Center was found to have inadequate camera monitoring of the facility;
  • The Department of Homeland Security Office of Detention and Oversight found that LaSalle’s Irwin County Detention Center failed to personally observe people on suicide watch in 2020;
  • The Texas Commission of Jail Standards found that LaSalle’s Fannin County Jail was not meeting state standards on face-to-face observations of suicidal and mentally ill incarcerated people in 2018 and 2019;
  • The Texas Commission of Jail Standards found that LaSalle’s Jack Harwell Detention Center was not meeting state minimum standards on face-to-face observations of suicidal and mentally ill incarcerated people in 2018 and 2019;
  • The Department of Homeland Security Office of Detention and Oversight found that LaSalle’s Richwood Correctional Center did not conduct timely cell checks of people housed in the special management unit on one (1) occasion in December 2019; six (6) separate occasions in December 2020; and once again in October 2021;
  • The Texas Commission of Jail Standards found that LaSalle’s Johnson County Jail was not meeting state standards on face-to-face observations of suicidal and mentally ill incarcerated people in 2018;
  • The Texas Commission of Jail Standards found that LaSalle’s Limestone County Jail was not meeting state standards on face-to-face observations of suicidal and mentally ill incarcerated people in 2018; and
  • The Texas Commission of Jail Standards found that LaSalle’s Willacy County Jail was not meeting state standards on face-to-face observations of suicidal and mentally ill incarcerated people in 2020.

Auditors also found on several occasions that LaSalle had inadequate training and policies on suicide prevention.

Catahoula Corrections Center is a private prison run by LaSalle Corrections via contract with the Department of Corrections, the latest of which is a renewal dated 2019. “While LaSalle operates this facility, both it and D.O.C. are fully and individually responsible for the health, including mental health, of the people in custody at CCC,” the petition says.

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Kevin Reeves showed up, but he may as well not have.

To say that Reeves lacked any propensity for candor would be to belabor the obvious.

Reeves, superintendent of State Police during the time that Ronald Greene was beaten, kicked and tased to death by five Louisiana state troopers, appeared voluntarily on Tuesday before the House committee investigating Greene’s 2019 death.

But for any real insight as to what transpired on the early morning hours of May 10, 2019, Reeves may as well have stayed home.

That’s both disappointing and reminiscent of the manner in which his predecessor, Mike Edmonson, managed to avoid responsibility for the infamous San Diego road trip by several of his troopers in an Louisiana State Police (LSP) vehicle.

And for anyone who thinks for a moment that a new day has dawned at LSP under its current leadership, I have some nice bayou frontage property in New Mexico to sell you.

Reeves, accompanied by Baton Rouge high-dollar defense attorney Lewis Unglesby, was sufficiently adept at the bureaucratic two-step so as to avoid answering direct questions that might have shed some light on the tragic events that began in Ouachita Parish and ended in adjacent Union.

There was one observer who was particularly interested in the hearings into how Troop F, headquartered in Monroe, has become something of a rogue outfit. Former prominent New Orleans attorney Ashton O’Dwyer was taken down by members of Troop F in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. Ordered to vacate his home (which had escaped wind and flood damage from the cataclysmic storm), he was hauled to Camp Amtrak where he was brutalized by authorities for hours on end.

O’Dwyer said he was appalled at “how easily Reeves lied,” which he said demonstrated the intrinsic arrogance of Reeves in particular and LSP in general. He said Reeves “truly considers himself so much above the law that he believes he can lie with impunity …and that people will believe his lies.”

O’Dwyer, who was fired by his prestigious New Orleans law firm and his law license revoked after he raised so much hell over the manner in which he was treated by authorities (yet another testament to the individual’s right to due process), said he was surprised Reeves testified at all. “I fully expected him to invoke his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.”

O’Dwyer noted with no small amount of irony that the one individual who was indisputably in charge of LSP, along with his entire command staff, “was disengaged” in serious matters such as the death of a motorist while in State Police custody. “The process that Reeves described in such matters allowed the people at the top to simply pass the buck which in the Ronald Greene case, obviously meant absolving themselves of any and all responsibility.”

O’Dwyer said that in a jury trial, be it a criminal case or in a civil litigation, he believes the following testimony by Reeves [would] cause him serious credibility problems:

  • The body cam video of Greene’s beating and tasing is “awful but not unlawful” (a statement attributed to Reeves and even defended in Tuesday’s hearing).
  • “I don’t believe there was a cover-up by the State Police.”
  • “I know of no cover-up in the Ronald Greene matter.”
  • “I don’t believe that body cams were turned off with any intent to cover something up.”
  • “The only reason that phones were sanitized (erased) was to restore them to factory setting so they could be re-issued to someone else” (which raises the question of why the phones of Lt. Col. Doug Cain and former LSP executive counsel Faye Morrison were likewise sanitized even though the instruments were not re-issued to others).

“Coincidentally, Reeves’s state-issued phone appears to have been sanitized commensurate with [the] filing of the wrongful death civil litigation,” O’Dwyer said.

He said he was surprised to learn that Col. Lamar Davis, the current superintendent of LSP, coincidentally headed up the department’s Technical Section when those phones were sanitized.

“Coincidentally, Reeves’ personal phone, which he routinely used at work and with which he communicated with the governor, was ‘accidentally crushed’ and also unavailable,” the former attorney noted.

That’s a lot of coincidences

O’Dwyer also was skeptical about the initial report that Greene died from injuries suffered in an auto accident. “No accident reconstruction analysis, which is routine in such cases, was ever performed,” he said.

Gov. John Bel Edwards was informed by Reeves some 10 hours after Greene’s death that he had died following a struggle with police. Yet Edwards remained silent on this point when State Police later tried to say Greene died when his vehicle struck a tree.

It’s not the first time that Edwards has appeared to benefit questionable members of law enforcement. Five years ago, he approved the pardon application of former Tensas Parish Sheriff Jeff Britt, who had pleaded guilty in 1999 to felony charges of misspending public funds and mistreating inmates.

Edwards granted the pardon in March 2017 and four months later appointed Britt to the board of the Used Motor Vehicle Commission.

Following his resignation as part of his plea bargain, Britt, along with someone named Ian Williamson of Spanish Fort, Alabama, operated a prison commissary business, providing snacks to sheriffs around north Louisiana for resale to inmates. They also run an outfit called Inmate Financial Services whereby family members of inmates may “conveniently purchase commissary credits for your incarcerated loved ones” so that they may in turn purchase the snacks from their commissary company, Britt’s Distributing, LLC.

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