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Amid years-long Nakamoto investigation, feds open 'unprecedented' civil rights probe into State Police

4 weeks 4 hours 13 minutes ago Wednesday, June 08 2022 Jun 8, 2022 June 08, 2022 11:00 PM June 08, 2022 in News
Source: WBRZ
Body camera image from Ronald Greene's arrest in 2019

BATON ROUGE - Federal prosecutors are launching an investigation into Louisiana State Police amid years of reports detailing the beatings of Black motorists at the hands of state troopers.

Shortly before the Thursday morning news conference, the WBRZ Investigative Unit learned the investigation stemmed from the agency's history of violent traffic stops, including the deadly arrest of Ronald Greene.

Read WBRZ's past coverage on the Ronald Greene investigation here

During the briefing, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said the Department of Justice is investigating whether State Police has a pattern of violating constitutional rights and "engages in racially discriminatory policing practices."

"Some of the reports include disturbing information about the use of racial slurs and racially derogatory terms by LSP troopers," Clarke said. "Other reports of unwarranted force after pursuits involving the use of tasers and blows to the head."

The investigation marks the first of its kind targeting a statewide law enforcement agency in over 20 years. Clarke said the probe will involve "unprecedented" cooperation between different arms of the Department of Justice.

For years, WBRZ Chief Investigator Chris Nakamoto has reported extensively on the death of Ronald Greene and the ensuing cover-up at State Police. There are already separate ongoing criminal investigations at state and federal levels to determine whether the officers involved in his arrest will face charges. 

Carl Cavalier, who was fired from State Police last year after spoke to WBRZ about what he considered a cover-up of Greene's death, said the federal investigation is long overdue. 

"It's a breath of fresh air," Cavalier said just moments after the announcement. "It's something not exactly what the citizens have been waiting on and the troopers have been waiting on, but it's a step in the right direction... Not only for myself and Ms. Mona Hardin, Ronald Greene's mom, and the good troopers at State Police."

WBRZ spoke with Cavalier on Thursday at the Louisiana State Police Commission, where he was appealing his termination. 

"Going against the grain at the department, you are going to be ostracized... or kicked out," Cavalier said. "You will lose your career, retirement and everything you worked hard for. The best thing you can do is to keep your mouth closed. I will quote Lamar Davis. He told me literally to chop wood and carry water. Don't speak out for everyone... speak for yourself."

Given everything that's happened in the years since Greene's death, Cavalier said he's staying cautiously optimistic that federal prosecutors can get results.

"I'm grateful that the feds are conducting an investigation," Cavalier said. "I'm not 100-percent sure that it's going to have a great outcome, but I like to be optimistic and see what happens."

Governor John Bel Edwards and State Police Superintendent Lamar Davis released a joint statement in response to the announcement Thursday. 

Today, the Governor’s Office and Louisiana State Police were briefed on the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil investigation into the patterns and practices of Louisiana State Police. Both Gov. Edwards and LSP Col. Lamar Davis pledged their support and cooperation with this federal investigation into the agency.

Gov. Edwards said:

“I welcome the U.S Department of Justice’s civil investigation into the patterns and practices of Louisiana State Police. It is deeply troubling that allegations of systemic misconduct exist that would warrant this type of investigation, but it is absolutely critical that all Louisianans, especially African Americans and other people of color, have their faith, confidence, and trust in public safety officers restored.

This investigation is one part of that process. I share the Department of Justice’s goal of ensuring that Louisiana State Police are policing in a constitutional way. It is my expectation that all employees of the Louisiana State Police will cooperate fully and completely with this investigation. It is my commitment and that of Col. Lamar Davis to the U.S. Department of Justice that they will have complete cooperation from the agency.

I am confident in the leadership of Col. Davis, who has already made great strides in reforming the agency. While I firmly believe that the vast majority of Louisiana State Police troopers meet the professional standards of law enforcement officers and protect and serve
honorably, when some do not, our people, communities, and state suffer. Working together, I am confident that Louisiana State Police will continue to make positive changes so that all of our people can feel protected and safe.”

Col. Lamar Davis said:

“Since accepting the position of Louisiana State Police Superintendent, I have vowed to regain the trust of our citizens, our law enforcement partners, our political leaders, and the men and women of our agency. The Department of Public Safety is comprised of over a 1,000 dedicated men and women within our commissioned ranks. Each of them display selfless service, courage, and integrity on a daily basis. Our personnel truly make a difference in our communities and I am grateful for the sacrifices they make on behalf of public safety. That does not change the fact that we have had some employees violate the trust of our citizens and of their colleagues. When that occurs, it is incumbent upon our agency to uphold our public safety oath and make the changes necessary to ensure that this
does not ever happen again.

With today’s announcement of a Federal Civil Rights investigation, our agency will continue to offer our full cooperation as we have done with all investigations over the last several years. No one is more committed to implementing positive change within our agency than our own personnel who work tirelessly each day to provide professional public safety services to the state of Louisiana.

As our agency moves forward, we have taken great strides in amending policies such as banning chokeholds, banning the use of impact weapons to the head and neck, instituting a duty to intervene policy, and defining accountability for supervisors to review, track, and report excessive force incidents. Implicit bias training is already in effect and de-escalation/duty to intervene training will begin this year. These improvements and reforms affect every aspect of our department and is only possible through the dedicated efforts of our Troopers, DPS Police Officers, and support staff. These steps are vital to ensuring that we provide the best services and constitutional policing possible to the communities we serve.

We remain committed to the reform process through continued coordination with
the Department of Justice and community stakeholders. Through this coordination, we will continue to implement critical changes within Louisiana State Police and build trust within our communities.”

Col. Davis sent an additional statement to troopers and other staff at State Police.

To the men and women of the Department of Public Safety, The U.S. Department of Justice has informed me that they will be conducting an investigation into our Department’s patterns and practice relative to Use of Force Incidents and Discriminatory Policing. This announcement follows a series of serious complaints received by the USDOJ which precipitated their investigation. While this may be unsettling to some of you, we must continue implementing necessary improvements and bring our agency to its highest potential. Our goal is, and always has been, to provide the best constitutional policing and public safety services possible. That will not change!

Over the last 20 months, our agency has worked tirelessly to regain the trust of our citizens, our law enforcement partners, our political leaders, and every member of our DPS family. Each of you display unwavering dedication to your job, selfless service, courage, and integrity on a daily basis. Your actions truly make a difference in our communities and I am grateful for the sacrifices you make on behalf of public safety. That does not change the fact that we have had some employees violate the trust of our citizens and of their colleagues. When that occurs, it is incumbent upon our agency to uphold our public safety oath and make the necessary changes to ensure this does not happen again.

With today’s announcement of a Federal Civil Rights investigation, our agency will continue to offer our full cooperation as we have done with all investigations over the last several years. This comprehensive review of our agency will be a team effort and I expect everyone to do his or her part to assist in this process. No one is more committed than we are to implementing positive change within our own agency.

As we move forward, we have taken great strides in amending policies such as banning
chokeholds, banning the use of impact weapons to the head and neck, instituting a duty to
intervene policy, and defining accountability for supervisors to review, track, and report excessive force incidents. Implicit bias training is already in effect and de-escalation/duty to intervene training will begin very soon. While these are just a few of the improvements and reforms instituted, all of them have a profound effect on every aspect of our department and the communities we serve. This is only possible through your dedicated efforts.

In the coming days, weeks, and months, USDOJ officials will conduct their investigation. I have assured them that we will cooperate fully with their investigation and make available all personnel and areas of our agency. We have nothing to hide and can only benefit from learning. Regardless of their findings, I expect each of you to continue working to improve our agency, mission, and each other. It is also my intent to take advantage of this opportunity to bring our agency and our community together, as there is nothing more important than trust, mutual respect, and understanding.

Likewise, I need all of you focusing on being the best Troopers, leaders, and professionals
possible. It is through opportunities such as this that we really see ourselves in a different light and grow into the agency we all want to be. We will embrace this opportunity and use it to identify those areas in which we can improve.

I also need you to know that as your Superintendent, I will be here every step of the way, leading, supporting, and working day in and day out with you to create the agency we know we are capable of being. So continue to hold your heads high, take pride in our profession and our agency, and reflect that pride in our daily actions.

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