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Facing criticism, Edwards calls press conference to address texts after Ronald Greene's death

JBEDavis1_11132020
Paul Braun
/
WRKF
Gov. John Bel Edwards dons his mask after introducing Col. Lamar Davis as the new superintendent of Louisiana State Police. Nov. 13, 2020.

After three days of silence, Gov. John Bel Edwards has called a Tuesday afternoon press conference to address growing concerns about his handling of the death of Ronald Greene after an Associated Press report revealed that Edwards received a text message about the violent circumstances of the incident just hours after it occurred in 2019.

In a statement issued Monday afternoon, the Governor’s Office said that the text message Edwards was sent from then State Police Superintendent Kevin Reeves informed Edwards of the death of an unnamed suspect. It was more than a year before Edwards learned of Ronald Greene’s in-custody death.

“The governor first learned of the serious allegation against Louisiana State Police surrounding the arrest and death of Mr. Ronald Greene in September 2020. He had previously been notified of the arrest and death of an unnamed individual in May 2019 by then LSP Superintendent Col. Kevin Reeves,” administration spokesperson Christina Stephens said in a statement.

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A text message about Ronald Greene's death from May 2019 between then State Police Superintendent Kevin Reeves and Gov. John Bel Edwards. Provided by the Governor's Office.

“It is standard practice for the head of LSP to notify the governor of incidents where a person dies in custody,” Stephens wrote. “He did not see, nor was he aware of, the videos of the arrest until much later in October of 2020.”

The statement included a picture of the text message thread originally reported by the Associated Press. The message does not mention Greene’s name but included significant details of the incident and described a “violent, lengthy struggle” that took place after Greene crashed his vehicle.

For more than a year, state police officials pushed the false narrative that Greene died on impact in the car accident that ended the chase. In May 2021, footage obtained by the Associated Press showed troopers brutally beating Greene just before his death. A second autopsy ordered by federal investigators rejected Louisiana State Police’s claims that Greene died of injuries sustained in the car crash.

In the time since the investigation into the cover-up by State Police became public, Edwards has remained tight-lipped and often dodged questions from the media related to the case.

Edwards will meet with members of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus before answering reporters' questions Tuesday afternoon. The press conference starts at 4:30 p.m.

“Since the beginning, the members of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus have called for transparency and accountability within this case, and we are still committed to finding out the truth,” Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Vincent Pierre said in a statement. “We have called a meeting with Gov. Edwards to discuss any possible new findings in the case and to form a consensus on how to move forward in our mission of obtaining justice for the family of Mr. Greene."

In the days since the report emerged, the Greene family, local civil rights leaders and other state officials have publicly criticized Edwards' handling of the incident and his silence on the allegations.

On Monday, House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said he was considering potential legislative action to investigate Edwards’ potential role in covering up the circumstances of Greene’s death.

Schexnayder (R-Gonzales) called the allegations “greatly disturbing” in a statement issued Monday.

“This would demonstrate gross misconduct and the highest level of deceit on behalf of the governor and others,” Schexnayder wrote. “What happened to Ronald Greene is inexcusable and should never happen to anyone. His family and the citizens of this state deserve to know the truth.”

Schexnayder wrote that he consulted Sen. President Page Cortez (R-Lafayette) and Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry about possible courses of action.

“It’s time to find out who knew what — and when — and hold them accountable,” Schexnayder said.

The NAACP of Baton Rouge similarly issued a statement, calling the report “deeply disturbing.”

“The NAACP finds this severely demonstrates a need for our governor to be fully transparent with our great state,” the statement said. “We feel that our governor has seemingly missed the mark so far.”

Mona Hardin, Ronald Greene’s mother, called on Edwards to resign, according to a story by the Associated Press.

“He needs to go,” Hardin told the AP. “He was able to stand aside as all this unfolded and just remain mute. That’s shameful.”

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.