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La. House takes steps to bolster Ronald Greene committee's subpoena power as investigation ramps up

State Capitol.jpg
Alex C. Balla
Louisiana State Capitol

Louisiana lawmakers want to make it easier to subpoena witnesses – possibly including Gov. John Bel Edwards – as they investigate the circumstances surrounding Ronald Greene’s death in Louisiana State Police custody and the internal affairs investigation that followed.

On Thursday, the House and Governmental Affairs Committee approved HR1 by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, which would grant “select committees” in the House of Representatives the authority to compel witnesses to appear before and supply documentary evidence to a select committee or face possible criminal contempt charges.

Legislative leaders have said they believe select committees, including the House probe into Ronald Greene’s death, already have the same subpoena power standing committees enjoy.

“In speaking with staff and [House] members, I believe the select committee already has this authority,” Rep. John Stefanski (R-Crowley) said. “This would clear up any questions about that.”

The House investigation has already stirred controversy. Earlier this week, Kevin Reeves, the retired head of the Louisiana State Police who led the agency at the time of Greene’s death, denied any wrongdoing in the agency’s handling of the incident.

Reeves asserted that he shared little information about the case with his boss, Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Lawmakers were skeptical of Reeves’ claims. House Speaker Clay Schexnayder created the committee earlier this year after it came to light that Reeves briefed Edwards hours after Greene’in-custody death via text message, describing a “violent, lengthy struggle” and subsequent death of a then-unnamed suspect.

For months, state police told Greene’s family and the public that the 49-year-old Black man died on impact in a car crash at the end of a high-speed chase.

The text message directly contradicts that narrative and raises questions about what Gov. Edwards knew about the incident.

Throughout the tense hearing, Reeves dismissed irregularities in evidence retention as “accidents” and told lawmakers that he was unwilling to discuss the contemporaneous notes he took during disciplinary hearings for troopers involved in the fatal beating.

Other legislative panels investigating police conduct have had trouble securing the testimony of current Louisiana State Police employees.

When the Senate Select Committee on State Police Oversight, which is not explicitly tasked with investigating the Greene incident, requested the testimony of Lt. John Clary and Master Trooper Kory York, two of the troopers present during the fatal arrest of Ronald Greene, neither showed up.

Sen. Cleo Fields (D-Baton Rouge) criticized Louisiana State Police Superintendent Col. Lamar Davis for not requiring his employees to participate in the committee’s investigation into agency policies.

“When the Senate calls you, you should show up,” Fields said during a Dec. 13 meeting. “To me, it was very disrespectful to say to them that they are not under subpoena and basically indicate to them that you really don’t have to show up.”

If approved, House leaders said the resolution would unambiguously affirm the authority of the committee to call witnesses from current and former employees of the Louisiana State Police and Edwards administration, up to and including Edwards himself.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.