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Head of State Police admits agency broke the law sanitizing top leaders' cell phones

2 years 4 months 2 days ago Friday, February 18 2022 Feb 18, 2022 February 18, 2022 5:35 PM February 18, 2022 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - In a sit-down interview with the WBRZ Investigative Unit on Friday, State Police Colonel Lamar Davis admitted his agency broke the law when the cell phones of top leaders were erased amid a state and federal investigation into the death of Ronald Greene.

Click here to watch Nakamoto's report live on WBRZ at 6:00

Greene, a Black man, led State Police on a high-speed chase in the Monroe area. Body camera footage from state troopers showed Greene was brutally beaten. Greene died in their custody. When his family was told about his death, troopers claimed he died in a crash, but video shows Greene was alive and apologizing when troopers pulled him out of his car.

Davis said the agency has been breaking the law since at least 2014, the date State Police pinpointed that the cell phone sanitizations began. State Police kept no documents or logs tied to the sanitizations, and the agency has no idea how many phones were cleared. Davis said he became aware of the violations last year, and that's when policies were changed to mirror state law.

"I immediately charged my personnel with making changes to make sure we cooperated and worked within the spirit of the policies and the law, and those changes are already in place," Davis said.

Those changes were made in the summer of 2021, when State Police uncovered the violation from their new legal counsel after multiple phones were erased.

"We were facing litigation at that time," Davis said. "It was brought to our attention by my legal staff that we were not following policies by the retention of information in conjunction with those legal matters."

WBRZ asked the colonel why the second-in-command, Lt. Col. Doug Cain, would need to have his phone wiped.

"There is a need to wipe a phone," Davis said. "As you well know, in today's climate we are communicating with cell phones and less with radios. When you look at the sensitivity of info we capture there is personal identifiable information, and there's security guidelines in regards to taking a phone and date of birth and other critical information and just releasing that phone."

Davis said sometimes phones are re-assigned to other state employees or sold at surplus. In this case, it's unclear what happened to Cain's old phone, but no back-up was made once it was turned in. Davis said State Police did not issue Cain another phone. Cain has been using his personal phone for two years now after having his department-issued phone wiped in February 2020.

Davis said his department is now getting to the bottom of the situation to see if there was criminal intent when the phones were sanitized.

"As I've said, I'm looking into it to determine there is no criminal intent here," Davis said. "If there is criminal intent, I will act upon it. I am not going to say that I know it was turned in for the right reasons."

Davis said he's been working hard to re-instill faith in the law enforcement agency he leads and the mess he inherited.

"When we're seeking change and categorizing State Police into a wide net and saying everyone is corrupt, I will say it has a profound impact," Davis said. "The very people we are seeking to recruit, are saying, 'Do I want to be a part of this organization?' It's important to recognize the men and women that do the jobs the right way, the job you and I expect of them. Also recognize, as we categorize State Police, it's not all of State Police. We have bad actors and did not own a lot of stuff we should have been accountable for. We are doing that now."

Last week, State Representative Edmond Jordan said former Colonel Kevin Reeves and the agency's former head of legal, Faye Morrison, authorized the cell phone sanitization.

Davis said he did not tell Jordan those names, but also did not dispute the information the state representative gave. Morrison was removed from her position as the head of legal in 2020, but remains employed in the legal division at State Police.

State Police defended their actions, claiming the cell phone sanitizations based on a State Office of Technology Services Policy (OTS). WBRZ reached out to OTS, which falls under the Division of Administration. The Division of Administration said there's nothing mandating any such policy at State Police.

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