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Union Parish DA will seek criminal charges for troopers involved in Ronald Greene's death

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Paul Braun
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Col. Lamar Davis, Louisiana State Police superintendent, testifies before a special state House committee investigating the agency's handling of Ronald Greene's violent in-custody death, March 22, 2022.

Union Parish District Attorney John Belton said Thursday that he believes state and federal crimes, including federal civil rights violations, were committed in Louisiana State Troopers' fatal beating and arrest of Ronald Greene in 2019. 

Belton told a state legislative committee that he’s ready to impanel a special grand jury to bring charges nearly three years after Greene’s death.

Capitol Access reporter Paul Braun discussed the hearing with News Director Patrick Madden.

Patrick Madden: Put Belton’s announcement in context for us. How big of a deal is this?

Paul Braun: It’s a huge deal. This is coming nearly three years after Ronald Greene was killed, and while we have known that a federal investigation was ongoing, many people assumed that the local DA would not bring state charges against the troopers involved in the case.

In fact, just a few weeks ago in the same state House committee, we heard testimony from former Louisiana State Police Col. Kevin Reeves. Reeves led the agency at the time of Greene’s death, and he and other members of the State Police’s top brass met with Belton months after Greene’s death. Reeves told lawmakers last month that he was under the impression that the district attorney would not bring charges. Reeves was clearly speaking out of turn.

Belton didn’t get into the specifics of what kind of charges might come down — that could jeopardize the integrity of his prosecution — but homicide charges could be on the table.

PM: Why has it taken so long? 

PB: Well, the quick answer is that federal prosecutors asked Belton to wait.

So, while Belton’s office was among the first outside entities notified of Greene’s death in State Police custody back in May 2019, his office didn’t have access to evidence from the internal affairs investigation until much later.

Belton said he first viewed bodycam footage of the incident on September 9, 2019, and immediately believed that he had just watched troopers violate state and federal law, including Ronald Greene’s civil rights.

That’s important. Civil rights violations can only be prosecuted by U.S. Attorneys, and Belton said he reached out to the feds that day to make sure they were involved in the case.

Once he did, Belton’s office and the feds pooled their resources and the information they collected, though Belton himself acknowledged that the feds were bringing a lot more to the table.

When the former U.S. Attorney asked him to hold off on filing any charges, Belton obliged.

Later on, there was a changing of the guard in the Western District of Louisiana, and Brandon Brown, the current U.S. Attorney, gave Belton the green light. Now he’s telling state lawmakers that he’s ready to move forward.

PM: Who might be targeted by these charges? 

PB: Belton didn’t say who would be charged, but he took two big names off of the list. Col. Lamar Davis and Kevin Reeves, the current and former superintendents of Louisiana State Police, will not face charges.

Only one trooper involved in the incident — Master Trooper Kory York — was ever disciplined for his role in the beating. York was suspended for 50 hours. One other trooper — Chris Hollingsworth — died in a suspicious, single-vehicle car accident hours after he found out he was going to be fired. He was the one who could be heard on the bodycam footage bragging about beating Greene.

We’ll be watching closely to see if charges come down for some of the other officers directly involved — troopers like Lt. John Clary, who was the ranking officer on the scene and who buried his bodycam footage of the incident. State Police cleared Clary of any wrongdoing, but that wouldn’t exempt him from criminal charges.

And we’ll also look for charges of anyone higher on the chain of the command who may not have been directly involved in the grisly beating but who had some role in covering it up.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.