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Five years later, feds still quiet on Louisianan Ronald Greene's deadly arrest

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FARMERVILLE, La. (AP) — Mona Hardin has been waiting five long years for any resolution to the federal investigation into her son’s deadly arrest by Louisiana State Police troopers, an anguish only compounded by the fact that nearly every other major civil rights case during that time has passed her by.

It took just months for Tyre Nichols ’ beating death last year to result in federal charges against five Memphis police officers. A half-dozen white lawmen in Mississippi have been federally sentenced in last year’s torture of two Black suspects. And federal prosecutors long ago brought swift charges in the slayings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.

Every one of those cases happened months or years after the death of Ronald Greene in northern Louisiana on May 10, 2019, which sparked national outrage after The Associated Press published long-suppressed body-camera video showing white troopers converging on the Black motorist before stunning, beating and dragging him as he wailed, “I’m scared!”

Yet half a decade after Greene’s violent death, the federal investigation remains open and unresolved with no end in sight. And Hardin says she feels ghosted and forgotten by a Justice Department that no longer even returns her calls.“Where’s Ronald Greene’s justice?” asked Hardin, who refuses to bury her son’s cremated remains until she gets some measure of accountability. “I still have my boy in that urn, and that hurts me more than anything. We haven’t grieved the loss of Ronnie because we’ve been in battle.”

Justice Department spokesperson Aryele Bradford said the investigation remains ongoing and declined to provide further details.

Under federal law, no statute of limitations applies to potential civil rights charges in the case because Greene’s arrest was fatal. But prosecutors have wavered for years on whether to bring an indictment, having all but assured Greene’s family initially that an exhaustive FBI investigation would produce charges of some kind.

A federal prosecution seemed so imminent in 2022 that one state police supervisor told AP he expected to be indicted. The FBI had shifted its focus in those days from the troopers who left Greene handcuffed and facedown for more than nine minutes to state police brass suspected of obstructing justice by suppressing video evidence, quashing a detective’s recommendation to arrest a trooper and pressuring a state prosecutor.

All the while, federal prosecutors asked local District Attorney John Belton to hold off on bringing state charges until the federal investigation was complete. They later reversed course, and in late 2022 a state grand jury indicted five officers on counts ranging from negligent homicide to malfeasance. Charges remain against only two, with a trial scheduled for later this year for a senior trooper seen on video dragging Greene facedown by his ankle shackles.

State police initially blamed the 49-year-old’s death north of Monroe on a crash following a high-speed chase over a traffic violation. But that explanation was called into question by photos of Greene’s body on a gurney showing his bruised and battered face, a hospital report noting he had two stun gun prongs in his back and the fact that his SUV had only minor damage. Even the emergency room doctor questioned the troopers’ initial account of a crash, writing in his notes: “Does not add up.”

All that changed two years later when AP published graphic body-camera video of Greene’s final moments, showing him being swarmed by troopers even as he appeared to raise his hands, plead for mercy and wail, “I’m your brother! I’m scared! I’m scared!” Troopers repeatedly jolted Greene with stun guns before he could even get out of the car, with one of them wrestling him to the ground, putting him in a chokehold and punching him in the face, Another called him a “stupid motherf---—.” They then ordered a shackled Greene to remain facedown on the ground, even as he struggled to prop himself up on his side.

A reexamined autopsy ordered by the FBI ultimately debunked the crash narrative and listed “prone restraint” among other contributing factors in Greene’s death, including neck compression, physical struggle and cocaine use.

Greene’s family members weren’t the only ones baffled by the pace of the federal inquiry. Then-Gov. John Bel Edwards expressed private frustration with the lack of answers in a closed-door meeting with state lawmakers, saying he believed from the first time he saw the video, in late 2020, that Greene’s treatment was criminal and racist.

“Are they ever going to come out and have a charge?” the Democratic governor asked amid reporting by AP that he had been notified within hours of Greene’s death that troopers engaged in a “violent, lengthy struggle.”

“This was a cover-up of the highest order,” Michael McClanahan, president of the NAACP’s Louisiana state conference, told sign-toting demonstrators Friday outside the Union Parish Courthouse in Farmerville.

“Why call the police when they’re the very ones that might kill you?” McClanahan said. “It was Ronald Greene then but it’s been a whole lot since Ronald Greene. Enough is enough.”

Perhaps the most significant hurdle to federal charges was the untimely death of Chris Hollingsworth, the trooper who was seen on the video repeatedly bashing Greene in the head with a flashlight and was later recorded by his own body camera calling a fellow officer and saying, “I beat the ever-living f--- out of him.” Hollingsworth died in a high-speed, single-vehicle crash in 2020 hours after he was told he would be fired over his actions in Greene’s death.

Another major sticking point has been whether prosecutors could prove the troopers acted “willfully” in abusing Greene — a key component of civil rights charges that has complicated such prosecutions around the country. The FBI even enhanced the video of the arrest in an ultimately inconclusive attempt to determine whether he had been pepper-sprayed after he was in custody, focusing on an exchange in which a deputy jeeringly said, “S--- hurts, doesn’t it?”

The Justice Department has also been conducting a sweeping investigation into use of force by the Louisiana State Police and whether it engages in “ racially discriminatory policing.” The department began that “pattern-or-practice” inquiry nearly two years ago following an AP investigation that found Greene’s arrest was among at least a dozen cases in which troopers or their bosses ignored or concealed evidence of beatings, deflected blame and impeded efforts to root out misconduct.

Also still pending is the federal wrongful death lawsuit Greene’s family filed four years ago seeking damages from the officers, who have denied wrongdoing. The civil case has been put on hold as the criminal proceedings play out.

Hardin said it’s long past time for the state of Louisiana to make amends.

“It started with a lie — we were told Ronnie was killed in a car crash,” she said. “That was wrong, and it has to be addressed. I will go to my grave knowing I did everything I could to get justice for Ronnie.”

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