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Question: How long should it take to complete an investigation of an “in custody death” involving Louisiana State Troopers LSP) and a deputy from the Union Parish Sheriff’s Office?

Well, in the words of one retired state trooper, such investigations are normally carried out “quick, fast, and in a hurry.”

So, why has the death of Ronald Greene at the hands of six troopers and deputy Christopher Harpin of Union Parish taken 16 months and counting?

Because “they’re circling the wagons,” says the retired trooper (I’ll call him Bob, though that’s not his real name. He prefers not to be quoted by name, but he did admit he viewed part of the body cam video of Greene’s take-down and describes it every bit as bad as the GEORGE FLOYD (the man who died as a Minneapolis Officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck) death. The infamous photo that showed Derek Chauvin calmly holding Floyd down with his knee until he died has sparked more than three months of protests.

Bob told LouisianaVoice that he “saw part of the video” and “overheard part of the conversation” of LSP investigators as they reviewed the video. “There were several troopers in the room as I walked past. Any time there’s lethal-force death, it’s pushed up the chain of command. They were talking about something being wrong.

He said he paused at the door and observed officers holding Greene on the ground. “I’ve never recalled holding anybody on the ground once he’s cuffed. We’re not trained to do that. We’re trained to get them cuffed and into our unit (patrol car). I asked if he (Greene) was cuffed and they (the investigators) said yeah.

“That really gets to me,” he said. “It’s no different than it’s ever been. A simple solution is to be honest, but they’re not doing that.”

LouisianaVoice made a public records request for the investigation report, disciplinary records stemming from Green’s death and all text messages between deputy sheriffs in Union and Ouachita parishes and any of the six troopers involved.

The request for text messages was based on reports LouisianaVoice received that such exchanges pertaining to the Greene death did, in fact exist, though the content of the messages is unknown.

We first received the stock answer that records would be reviewed and redacted as necessary and if deemed public, the records would be ready in 45 days – an abnormally long time to respond to a public records request.

I emailed a response from Faye Morrison’s administrative assistant expressing my displeasure at such a long wait:

From: Tom Aswell
Sent: Friday, September 4, 2020 3:40 PM
Subject: RE: PRR – Ronald Greene

Please convey to Ms. Morrison that 45 days in unacceptable. You can redact an entire book in fewer than 45 days. Please have the requested documents prepared and ready for examination by close of business on September 17. That’s 10 working days. This is not negotiable.

LSP attorney Faye Morrison also informed me that an investigative report (and all related documents) “is pending review with the Lincoln/Union District Attorney’s Office (both parishes are in the 3rd Judicial District).”

 

Following is the latest communication LouisianaVoice received from attorney Morrison:

From: Faye Morrison <Faye.Morrison@la.gov>
Sent: Thursday, September 10, 2020 2:05 PM
To: ‘louisianavoice@outlook.com’ <louisianavoice@outlook.com>
Cc: Nick Manale <Nick.Manale@la.gov>; Chavez Cammon <Chavez.Cammon@la.gov>
Subject: PRR to LSP for documents related to the “pursuit, arrest and death of Ronald Greene”

Dear Mr. Aswell:  Please be advised that the information you seek in your public records request for:

All audio and/or video recordings taken during the pursuit, arrest and death of Ronald Greene in Ouachita and Union Parishes on the night of May 09/May 10, 2019;
·           All investigative reports conducted by Louisiana State Police of said incident;
·           All records of disciplinary actions taken against any and/or all Louisiana State Troopers involved in the incident, including but not limited to Trooper Dakota DeMoss, Master Troopers Chris Hollingsworth and Kory York, Sgt. Floyd McElroy, Lt. John Clary and Capt. John Peters;
·           All text messages between any deputy sheriffs from Union or Ouachita Parishes, particularly Union Parish Deputy Christopher Harpin, and any and all of the aforementioned members of LSP, in reference to Ronald Greene
,

is not considered public at this time pursuant to La. R.S. 44:3(A)(1).  LSP conducted a criminal investigation into the incident and that investigative report (and all related documents) is pending review with the Lincoln/Union Parish District Attorney’s Office.  Our administrative investigation into the same is ongoing. (Emphasis mine) As you know, this office does not maintain standing requests due to the volume of requests we receive.  That being said, please feel free to request an update at any time.  fdm

To date, only one trooper, Chris Hollingsworth, was placed on LEAVE – but not until last month, 15 months after Greene’s death.

A lawsuit has been filed by attorneys Ronald Haley of Baton Rouge and Mark Maguire of Philadelphia against the six troopers, Harpin and a “John Doe” corporation that manufactures Electronic Control Weapons (tasers allegedly used on Greene). Troopers’ statements given about the incident are conflicting and inconsistent, giving us sufficient doubt about events leading up to Greene’s death. Text messages, if they exist, could give insight into officers’ attempts get their stories straight. (Haley also represents the family of Trayford Pellerin, who was killed by Lafayette police on Aug. 21. About 100 persons gathered at the State Capitol on Friday to protest that and other police shootings of Black people.)

That possibility, by itself, casts yet another cloud on LSP, which has experienced several negative news stories over the past six years, beginning with attempts by former LSP Superintendent Mike Edmonson and then-Sen. (not State Rep.) Neil Riser to circumvent regulations that, if successful, would have given Edmonson more than $100,000 per year in additional retirement benefits.

Greene initially fled from State Police in Ouachita Parish and did not stop until he sideswiped a tree in Union Parish, doing minor damage to the rear driver’s side of the vehicle. He exited his car under his own power and began apologizing for not stopping initially

Among the discrepancies:

  • Greene’s family was initially told by police that Greene had died after hitting a tree;
  • A call for Emergency Medical Services concealed the face that lethal force had been used;
  • The police report failed to indicate the use of force;
  • Officers claimed that Greene was intoxicated before leaning that a toxicology exam found no alcohol or drugs in Greene’s system;
  • Greene’s body was transported out of state for an autopsy, thereby denying the family’s right to have a representative observe the autopsy;
  • An emergency room physician at Glenwood Hospital in West Monroe said, “Upon obtaining more history from different law enforcement, personnel, history seems to be disjointed and does not add up. Different versions are present…family states they were told by law enforcement that patient died on impact with tree immediately after motor vehicle accident, but law enforcement state(ed) to me that patient far out of the car and running and involved in a fight and struggle where…he was tased three times.”

 

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You have to wonder what the Louisiana Ethics Board is trying to conceal.

Back in March, the neutered ethics board sued the Louisiana Legislative Auditor in an effort to prevent state auditors from peeking at information in its case files that the auditors say is necessary to conduct a proper performance review of the board.

Well, there may be a plausible explanation but on the surface of it all, the ethics board’s action screams of some kind of cover-up. Perhaps I’m just being paranoid, but then when you examine some of the board’s actions, that too, is understandable.

You may remember one of the first actions taken by Bobby Jindal soon after taking office back in 2008 was to gut the board in what he deemed at the time reform that produced the “gold standard” of ethics.

What it did, instead, was make then-pending ethics investigations of a couple of legislators go away. One of those legislators is now a college president. Go figure.

When Jindal announced his “reforms,” there were 11 members of the ethics board. Soon after that, there were two. Nine of the 11 members, including the board chairman, vice-chairman and board administrator promptly RESIGNED in protest—or disgust, take your pick.

In its lawsuit, filed in state court in Baton Rouge, the board contends that information contained in the files is confidential and privileged. State Auditor Daryl Purpera countered that his office has not only the right but the obligation to see the information—and to keep it confidential.

It’s most likely that auditors are not interested in any particular case, but it is nevertheless interesting to consider some of the board’s fancy footwork in dodging any responsibility in holding public officials’ feet to the proverbial fire.

Take State Police, for example. Back in April 2018, the board CLEARED —in secret, at that—four State Troopers accused of taking a taxpayer-funded vacation in a state vehicle that took them to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas en route to a convention in San Diego.

The troopers, the board determined, did not take the detour to the tourist spots on their own volition, but upon the instructions of higher-ups in the department. There was only one “higher-up” who could give those instructions and that was then-State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, who ultimately resigned under pressure in the wake of that trip.

But then, 16 months later, in August 2019, the board then managed to twist logic beyond recognition when it also CLEARED Edmonson of wrongdoing, according to his attorney, Gray Sexton. Sexton formerly served as (ahem) head of the State Ethics Commission but apparently had no problem representing clients before the board.

Sexton said he had received a letter from the board that cleared Edmonson but he refused to make a copy of the letter available, claiming that it was “confidential.”

That seems to be the way the Ethics Board operates these days: confidentially, in secret, behind closed doors, out of sight from, and with no accountability to the public.

Auditors are seeking full access to board records from 2013-2018, specifically inclusive of investigative case files, files for cases with waivers/suspensions, and ethics board executive meeting minutes.

The board provided some of the records but has withheld the investigative case files and executive board meeting minutes, justifying the refusal by claiming state law “provides that documents obtained or prepared in connection with an investigation are not only confidential but also privileged.”

The board’s refusal and lawsuit appear to be part of a trend of state boards, commissions and agencies trying to prevent auditors from delving into their operations.

In recent years, the State Board of Medical Examiners, the Louisiana Pharmacy Board, and the Department of Economic Development have taken legal action to protect their records from the prying eyes of auditors. Purpera’s office won against the Medical Examiners and Pharmacy boards but lost a court decision against LED.

Purpera said the effort to obtain records for auditing purpoises is an ongoing battle. “We’ve been fighting for records for the last 25 years,” he said.

 

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You’d think Gov. John Bel Edwards would be a little better at reading the tea leaves.

After all, it was Louisiana’s teachers who first pushed him over the top to win the governor’s election over David Vitter in 2015.

And the teachers again provided needed support when he was challenged by businessman Eddie Rispone who had the backing of would-be kingmaker Lane Grigsby.

So, how did Edwards reward teachers for their support?

A raise of $1,000 per year in 2019. That’s $83 per month before taxes—and that was nearly four years into his first term before he got around to doing that much.

Yes, I know a lot of workers in Louisiana didn’t get raises of $83 per month but before jumping in with that argument, consider what teachers are expected to do (other than teach in a classroom) and how their salaries stack up with other states.

Last April, the NEA released FIGURES that showed Louisiana’s teachers (before that $1,000-per-year boost) still ranked 13th lowest in the nation.

And those same figures showed that the national average teacher salary, adjusted for inflation, had actually decreased 4.5 percent over the previous decade. Teachers were paid 21.4 percent less than similarly-education and experienced professionals, the NEA study revealed.

The national average teacher salary increased from $59,539 for the 2016-17 school year to $60,477 for 2017-18,

The average pay for teachers in Louisiana was $50,256.

So, what did Edwards to this year to try and bring teacher into alignment with other states when he submitted his proposed budget for next year?

Crickets chirping. Nothing. Nada. Nil. Zip.

And his wife was a teacher before he was elected governor. His daughter is a school counselor.

As might be expected, teachers took umbrage at the governor’s slight—as well they should have.

An acquaintance offered a defense of sorts for the governor’s omission. “The Republican legislature wouldn’t approve another teacher pay raise anyway, so he just didn’t brother.”

My response to that is, “So what? Put it in the budget and put the onus on the legislators. Let them explain why Louisiana cannot support its teachers. There are, by the way, part-time legislators who pull down more than starting teachers in this state.

Gov. Edwards did finally reverse himself, but only after teachers bristled publicly. But you’d never know he truly felt their wrath when he offered up a $500 per year raise. That’s $42 per month, a little more than a dollar a day. You can’t even go to McDonald’s with that.

If Edwards is considering a run at John Kennedy’s Senate seat, he’d do well to remember the teachers.

And don’t give me that worn-out B.S. about teachers only working nine months a year. That’s pure bunk. No sooner than the school year is over than teachers must turn their attention to the coming year by preparing lesson plans, cleaning out classrooms, re-stocking supplies and attending meetings.

Teachers endure problems we can only imagine in our jobs. As a news reporter, I would get irate calls from subjects of my stories but try sitting across the desk from an arrogant parent who won’t accept the explanation that their kid, who never received discipline or help with his homework at home, is disruptive, a problem student and deserved that poor grade or suspension.

Teachers must watch for signs their students are abused at home. Ever had to do that in your job? Ever had to look at a bruised child and asked him or her to tell you what happened? It’s a pretty depressing responsibility and can leave teachers sickened with nightmares.

Sometimes teachers are called on to stop a bullet to save a child—and they do it, Alex Jones’s claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

Test papers are taken home by teachers who, while the rest of the family is watching American Idol, must plod through 25 or 30 test papers for grading. They sacrifice time with their own families so they can devote time to their jobs.

Teachers dip into their own pocketbooks to purchase materials for their classrooms. And believe me, that isn’t cheap. I knew a teacher in Lincoln Parish who bought shoes for a child who had none.

They are saddled with tons of paperwork other than test grading and they are burdened with bureaucratic requirements in preparation for standardized testing and if the kids don’t do well, it’s the teacher who bears the brunt of evaluations by politicians who decide who is and who isn’t a good teacher—without ever meeting the teacher or sitting in her classroom.

Teachers must step in to stop fights and God help her if she’s a little too physical with the kids. Might as well go ahead and retain legal counsel.

And sometimes a teacher spots potential in a kid no one else has seen. They take the student under their wing, nurture his/her talents, and develop a kid everyone thought had no future into a productive citizen. On that point, I speak from experience. Thank you, Mrs. Garrett, Miss Lewis, Miss Hinton, Mr. Peoples and Mr. Ryland. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Teachers deserve better, Gov. Edwards. As a friend suggested, “Go big or go home.”

You gave state police enormous pay raises. You gave your cabinet members substantial increases.

Teachers, cafeteria workers and other school employees deserve nothing less than the same consideration you’ve given state troopers and cabinet members.

You’re beginning to look a lot like Bobby Jindal.

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Mike Edmonson, a veteran of 35 years with Louisiana State Police (LSP) and nine years as the state’s top cop, is reported to have been named Program Administrator for Police Patrol by the New Orleans French Quarter Management District (FQMD).

LouisianaVoice received an unconfirmed report on Tuesday that Edmonson, who retired at $128,559 per year after being forced out in March 2017, had been named to the post, advertised by the FQMD earlier this year.

An LSP spokesman said he had heard similar reports but could not confirm them.

Prior to making that request, LouisianaVoice attempted to obtain verbal confirmation from the New Orleans municipal offices but it took six calls to various offices before anyone even answered the phone.

Efforts to confirm the appointment and the salary of the position with the New Orleans mayor’s office by email met with referrals of all public records requests to an outfit called NextRequest.

NextRequest, headquartered in San Francisco, serves as a clearing house for public records requests for governmental agencies, schools, special districts, etc.

Apparently governmental agencies’ rush to privatize services now extends to responding to and complying with public records requests.

Edmonson retired from LSP in March 2017 following a San Diego conference attended by several LSP officials, including four troopers who made the trip in a state vehicle and who took a side trip to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon in 2016.

The investigation of that trip resulted in two of the most convoluted, confusing and controversial—and conflicting—findings by the State Board of Ethics. In April 2018, the ethics board cleared—in secret—the four troopers of any wrongdoing, concluding that they were simply following orders from higher-ups and had taken the vehicle and the side trip with the approval of Edmonson.

Sixteen months later, in August of this year, that same board CLEARED EDMONSON of any wrongdoing for that same trip. Edmonson, it should be noted, was represented before the board by Baton Rouge attorney Gray Sexton who once headed the ethics board.

Sexton said at the time that other agencies investigating Edmonson were dropping their investigations, as well. It’s unclear whether or not the FBI has actually dropped its investigation of Edmonson, who was harshly criticized for his management practices in an audit by the Legislative Auditor’s office.

If reports of Edmonson’s hiring are true, he would find himself working in a familiar—and friendly—atmosphere, given his ties to Robert Watters, owner of RICK’S CABARET.

Edmonson was instrumental in negotiating a cooperative endeavor agreement (CEA) whereby LSP would provide patrol duties in the French Quarter to augment New Orleans police.

In 2015, French Quarter residents approved a special quarter-cent sales tax increase in the district to pay for a PERMANENT LSP PRESENCE. Thirty-two troopers from Troop N were assigned permanently to the Quarter.

When proceeds from the sales tax proved insufficient, the Louisiana Legislature appropriated an additional $2.4 million to cover the shortfall.

In December 2018, a STATE AUDIT said LSP had not provided proof that $2.4 million in state funds set aside for policing the Quarter was actually spent there, a finding with which LSP disagreed.

If Edmonson has indeed been appointed program manager for the district, he will undoubtedly have interactions with his old agency that he left under a cloud two-and-one-half years ago.

 

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Louisiana State Police (LSP), only two-and-one-half years removed from one of its darkest chapters, may be facing yet another serious problem perpetrated from within the State Police Training Academy.

LSP Public Information Officer Major Doug Cain on Tuesday confirmed that two cadets had been removed, or separated, from the current class currently undergoing training at the academy for cheating.

Cain said the two were involved in cheating on a test, but the problem may actually go much deeper than just two cadets cheating on an exam, LouisianaVoice has learned.

LouisianaVoice has received reports that a key test may have been made available to certain cadets via an online drop box. An internal investigation will likely take place with disciplinary action to follow if the allegations are borne out.

Independent sources have reported to LouisianaVoice that the test in question is the Police Officers Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) test which all police officers at local, parish and state levels must pass in order to become certified as law enforcement officers.

That test is separate from the weekly exams given cadets, the source said.

The source said that “captains, instructors, cadets—all of the above—were involved in providing copies of the P.O.S.T. test to select cadets whom they favored.

If correct, that would rise to the level of a major scandal for LSP Superintendent Colonel Kevin Reeves, who succeeded Mike Edmonson, who was forced into retirement following a series of negative stories culminating in an unauthorized trip to San Diego by four troopers in a state vehicle.

In my research for an anticipated book tentatively entitled America’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption (a sequel to Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption), it was found that sheriffs’ deputies in several other states were fired for obtaining copies of tests but this would be the first known such case involving law enforcement in Louisiana.

It was not immediately known how many cadets might be involved in the alleged P.O.S.T. cheating scandal, nor how many, if any, instructors may be implicated.

The academy was recently rocked with another TRAINING INCIDENT when at least 10 cadets were injured, some with broken bones, as part of hazing punishment when one cadet was found to be in possession of a cellphone. Defensive Tactics (DT) training has subsequently been suspended at the academy as a result of the injuries.

LouisianaVoice will follow up on details as they are learned.

 

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