The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday (June 9) announced a civil rights investigation of the besieged Louisiana State Police that examines increasing evidence of a pattern or practice of covering up the excessive use of force targeting mostly Black men.
“Based on an extensive review of publicly available information and information provided to us, we find significant justification to open this investigation now,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who oversees the Justice Department’s civil rights division.
Reports indicate that state troopers target Black motorists for traffic stops in which they unnecessarily use excessive force and racial slurs, Clarke added.
The probe focuses on “whether the Louisiana State Police has a pattern or practice of using excessive force. And second, whether the Louisiana State Police engages in racially discriminatory policing practices against Black people and other people of color,” the federal prosecutor stated.
The Associated Press reported that the Louisiana State Police’s own figures show that 67 percent of its uses of force in recent years have targeted Black people, which represents twice the state’s Black population.
One of those cases, which involves the deadly 2019 arrest of Ronald Greene has garnered national attention. An AP investigation found that Greene’s case is among at least a dozen less known cases in which the state troopers and department heads hid evidence of beatings and police misconduct.
Several current and former troopers told the AP that there’s a culture of racism, brutality and cover-ups at every in the agency. Troopers routinely turn off or mute their body cameras during pursuits. If there’s video evidence of police misconduct, department officials usually decline to release the footage. Arresting officers typically omit their beating of suspects from official reports or falsely claimed that suspects resisted arrest.
In Greene’s case, video evidence was long withheld that showed white troopers beating, stunning and dragging him to his death, which they initially blamed on a car crash after a high-speed chase.
In February, local Baton Rouge, La. station WBRZ reported that the state police’s second-in-command had all data removed from his work phone during an investigation into Green’s death. The current superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, Lamar Davis, admitted to WBRZ that department leaders sanitizing their cell phones is illegal. That news prompted a call from the NAACP to call for an internal affairs investigation.
The AP reported in May that the governor and his top lawyers privately watched body-camera footage in October 2020 of the fatal police beating of Greene. Prosecutors, detectives and medical examiners learned about the video six months later.
Clarke said Edwards and Davis have pledged to cooperate with the federal investigation, according to the AP.
“It is deeply troubling that allegations of systemic misconduct exist that would warrant this type of investigation,” he said in a statement, “but it is absolutely critical that all Louisianans, especially African Americans and other people of color, have their faith, confidence and trust in public safety officers restored.”