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Nakamoto: Top State Police leader tied to Ronald Greene cover-up had phone data erased

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BATON ROUGE - As pressure started mounting against State Police following controversial excessive force incidents,  including the death of Ronald Greene, the phone of top agency Lt. Colonel Doug Cain was scrubbed of its data.

It's a process known as being "sanitized," and it appears to have erased the messages and other information from Cain's phone.  The timing is interesting: It came amid a state and federal investigation into Greene's death.

Greene died in State Police custody in May 2019 after a high-speed chase.  Greene's family was first told he died in a wreck but body camera video - hidden at first - eventually leaked and was published two years later showing he was beaten.

The incident happened in the Monroe area. 

The WBRZ Investigative Unit and Chris Nakamoto have spent more than a year investigating the case and reporting on the State Police cover-up that ensued.  State Police tried as much as it could to maintain a narrative that Greene died as a result of a fender-bender.

Click HERE to watch WBRZ and Nakamoto's reports 

State Police confirmed Cain's phone was sanitized but said it could provide little other information because it kept no records.

Typically, the process happens when an employee leaves a state agency. However, the state has document-retention and hold policies in place if litigation is expected tied to an incident.  Cain's phone was wiped clean even though he never left State Police and with the likelihood of a lawsuit over Greene's death. 

Now, calls are growing louder for current State Police Superintendent Colonel Lamar Davis to place Cain on administrative leave - or fire him.

Chris Nakamoto originally received word from a source about Cain's phone being cleared of data.  State Police only verified it Thursday when it responded to a public records request and avoided elaborating on when the data was erased from the phone.  State Police said there were no documents related to the process.  In follow-up emails, WBRZ asked for the agency to talk directly with Cain about when his phone was cleared.  A spokesperson eventually offered that Cain estimated it occurred in February 2020.

The month Cain's phone was "sanitized" is the same month internal investigator Albert Paxton said he brought the Greene case file to the FBI. Federal prosecutors were already looking into the case after being contacted by Monroe-area district attorney John Belton.

Paxton kept thorough notes about Greene's death and eventually left State Police when he took heat for not falling in line with the cover-up.  He noted Cain blew him off when he expressed concerns about the case early-on. The notes also indicate Cain appeared angry when he learned that one of the troopers involved that night might face charges.

Lawmakers who have convened a special inquiry into State Police amid WBRZ's reports are baffled about the most recent report on data being erased from phones.

State Representative Edmond Jordan sits on the new legislative committee formed to investigate the Greene cover-up. Jordan said he also recently learned of Cain's phone being sanitized and that other phones were wiped clean, too.

"For me, it's very disturbing," Jordan said. "This is not something that's unique. This is not a one-off situation that's unforeseen. That's why we have litigation holds, and we have them for years. Any time there is a threat of litigation, you need to preserve those records."

Cain is among three top leaders at State Police that had their phones wiped clean. The other two officials who had phones wiped after Greene's death were former LSP Superintendent Colonel Kevin Reeves and his second-in-command, Mike Noel.

This week, the WBRZ Investigative Unit published text messages showing Governor John Bel Edwards' staff was in constant communication with state and federal prosecutors in the Greene case.

"The lack of transparency.... And the citizens of Louisiana deserve transparency, and this is another indicator State Police was not acting as transparent as they should have been," Jordan said.

The committee formed to look into the cover-up is expected to have its first meeting when a separate, special legislative session wraps up.

State Police said it has since changed policies related to how phones are erased.  In a statement, State Police told WBRZ Friday: 

Although we can't provide the exact date the phone was reset, LTC Cain believes it could have been turned in around February of 2020.

Again, this is an estimation, there is no log. LSP fully discloses that although sanitizations did take place pursuant to the OTS policy, the department did not maintain the requisite logs. This oversight was corrected under Colonel Davis' direction.

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