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Lawmakers, family weigh in on officers' indictments years after Ronald Greene's death in police custody

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UNION PARISH - A grand jury handed up indictments against five law enforcement officers Thursday for the May 2019 death of Ronald Greene, an unarmed Black man who died in police custody.

Greene's mother, Mona Hardin, was with her lawyer in Baton Rouge for the announcement when they were informed of the decision. She has attended every capitol hearing hosted by lawmakers and every court event related to her son's death.

"All I know is Ronnie was with us," Hardin said. "I felt his presence today, and my gosh, this is all for you Ronnie. This is all for you. Everyone here, the families, Cavalier."

The WBRZ Investigative Unit has covered Greene's death and exposed the ensuing cover-up in a flood of reports that started in 2020. WBRZ Chief Investigator Chris Nakamoto was there when news of the indictments came down. Greene's family erupted in cheers after hearing about the charges.

Watch the moment Greene's family learned about the charges

See WBRZ's past coverage here

The troopers implicated in the grand jury decision are Trooper John Clary, Trooper Dakota Demoss, Trooper Kory York, Union Parish Deputy Chris Harpin and Former Troop F Commander John Peters. Their charges are as follows.

Kory York

-negligent homicide

-10 counts of malfeasance 

Chris Harpin 

-3 counts of malfeasance

John Clary

-1 count of malfeasance

-1 count of obstruction of justice

Dakota Demoss

-1 count of obstruction of justice

John Peters

-1 count of obstruction of justice

"My heart is still heavy because we are talking about police accountability," State Representative Edmond Jordan said. "It's a sad day when we have to celebrate the justice system doing what it's supposed to do. This isn't something extra. It feels like it's extra because it's so uncommon. It should be commonplace; if you don't do your job, you should be held accountable."

Jordan along with other lawmakers sat on a committee demanding justice and accountability tied to Greene's death.

"Yes, we have five recommendations for indictments," Representative C. Denise Marcelle, who also sits on the committee, said. "But we had many, many more that sat in front of our committee that lied and covered up. It was a layer of cover-up. I don't want to stop at the five. I want us to get down to the root of everyone who played a part in this cover-up."

The ACLU of Louisiana called Thursday's indictments a long-overdue step toward justice.

"Ronald Greene should be alive today," Executive Director Alanah Odoms said. "His loved ones should not have been subjected to lies and cover-ups from state officials, and they should not have to endure further injustices."

Louisiana statute sets the penalty for negligent homicide at a maximum of five years in prison. A conviction for each count of malfeasance in office also brings a sentence of up to five years.

Obstruction of justice counts are a bit more complicated, with a misdemeanor charge of obstruction carrying less weight than a felony one. The WBRZ Investigative Unit has confirmed that the more serious felony variety was filed against the defendants.

In extreme cases, obstruction can carry a penalty of up to 40 years in prison, but it appears a five-year maximum will again be in play for each of the counts in the Ronald Greene matter.

After the indictments Thursday, State Police said troopers York and Clary — the only officers still working at LSP — were placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the criminal investigation. 

Clary was the highest-ranking trooper on scene the night Greene died, and investigators noted he told them he had no body camera video. That was not the case.

Greene died just after midnight May 10, 2019. Body camera footage showed he was beaten by State Troopers after leading them on a high-speed chase near Monroe. Hours later, Governor Edwards was notified by former State Police Superintendent Kevin Reeves of a man dying after a "violent and lengthy struggle" with troopers.

That afternoon, troopers called Greene's mother and said her son had died in a car crash. One week later, former Troop F Commander John Peters reportedly told Albert Paxton to hide incriminating body camera footage of troopers.

A year after Greene's death, his family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in May 2020. In September 2020, the WBRZ Investigative Unit aired its first story about Ronald Greene, questioning what really happened and showing concern of a cover-up underway.

The following month, October 2020, Hardin watched the body camera videos of her son's death. That same October, Colonel Kevin Reeves abruptly quit amid mounting pressure and what had become numerous investigative unit stories seeking interviews from him about the truth.

A year and a half after Greene's death, Commander Peters sent an email to Louisiana State Police legal head Faye Morrison, still claiming Greene died in a car crash. In May 2021, State Police released bodycam footage after the Associated Press shared leaked clips.

Trooper Carl Cavalier sat down with the WBRZ Investigative Unit in June 2021, bringing the notes investigator Albert Paxton wrote, exposing the cover-up.

That summer, Faye Morrison was removed as the legal head and Commander Peters retired following WBRZ obtaining the email where State Police perpetuated a lie about Greene dying in a wreck.

In July 2021, the Legislative Black Caucus requested a top-to-bottom investigation into Greene's death.

Weeks before Christmas, Albert Paxton testified at the Capitol, telling investigators he's being retaliated against for refusing to participate in wrongdoing.

"I'm being investigated because I won't participate in the cover-up. I won't hide evidence, and I won't lie," Paxton said.

The Investigative Unit obtained all of Paxton's notes, some implicating second-in-command Lieutenant Colonel Doug Cain, through a public records request in January 2022. WBRZ exposed Cain was among three top State Police officials to have their phones sanitized, erased, amid a state and federal investigation.

In March, a committee at the capitol convened to get to the bottom of Greene's death and to find out who knew what and when. Cain abruptly retired not long after his testimony before those lawmakers.

Since Greene's death, there's been a big shake-up at State Police. The Commander over Troop F where Greene was beaten retired and all top leaders that led the agency are gone.

Read the statement from Louisiana State Police Superintendent Lamar Davis below. 

"Today’s indictments followed a thorough and extensive investigation by state and federal agencies.

Any instance of excessive force jeopardizes public safety and is a danger to our communities. These actions are inexcusable and have no place in professional public safety services.

As a result of today’s indictment, Trooper Kory York and Lt. John Clary will be placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the legal proceedings.

Over the last two years, LSP has made fundamental improvements to our operations, training, and administration. These reforms have led to the implementation of critical changes throughout the department and the rebuilding of trust within the communities we serve.

LSP continues to offer our full cooperation in the ongoing investigations and legal proceedings."

On Friday, Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a statement:

"I hope that the grand jury’s decision begins to bring some measure of peace to Mr. Greene’s family. As I have said before, the manner in which Mr. Greene was treated was criminal. I know that Col. Lamar Davis has reiterated that Louisiana State Police are committed to full cooperation in the ongoing investigations and legal proceedings. Justice must prevail. Mr. Greene’s family deserves nothing less."

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