FILE - This undated file photo provided by his family in September 2020 shows Ronald Greene. Body camera video obtained by The Associated Press shows Louisiana state troopers stunning, punching and dragging the Black man as he apologizes for leading them on a high-speed chase — footage authorities refused to release in the two years since the man died in police custody.  (Family photo via AP, File)
'Still in shock': Mother of Ronald Greene on healing after son's death
07:01 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday called the actions of state troopers involved in Ronald Greene’s death “criminal” and rejected a recent report alleging that he purposefully did not speak out against false narratives by state police about the death.

Greene, a 49-year-old Black man, died in 2019 after what the police described as resisting arrest and a struggle with officers. However, his family said that they were told that Greene died in a car crash after a police chase, CNN has previously reported.

Videos of the incident were not released for two years after Greene’s death. It showed Greene being tased, kicked and punched by Louisiana State Police officers before he died in their custody.

The governor called what happened to Greene “horrific” and said it was important to acknowledge that some people operate with “outright racism,” adding, “we have to do more to identify that early on and separate people from their badges when they’re not worthy of wearing one, when they’re not committed to serving and protecting the public.”

“I cannot imagine that, had Mr. Greene been White, he would have been treated that way,” the governor added.

Edwards’ news conference came in response to an article by The Associated Press suggesting that the governor kept quiet for two years – which included a politically sensitive period when he was running for re-election – about what he knew regarding what happened during the overnight hours of May 10, 2019, when Greene died.

In a statement to CNN, the AP said it stands by its reporting. In an article, the outlet said it has documentation to show that federal investigators questioned people about what the governor knew about the case.

The Justice Department, which is investigating Greene’s death, said in a statement this week that reporting suggesting the FBI has questioned people “about the awareness of certain facts” by Edwards was inaccurate.

Edwards defeated his Republican challenger Eddie Rispone by winning 51% in a runoff vote on November 16, 2019.

At the Tuesday news conference, the governor struck a defiant tone and repeatedly denied he ever misled anyone about Greene dying in a car crash prior to the release of the videos, saying anyone who said that was how Greene died was “obviously lying.”

The governor added that neither he nor his office ever tried to hide or interfere with any parts of the investigation into Greene’s death, saying that, “goes beyond every ounce of my being, every ounce of my character and my principles.”

Edwards said Tuesday that after the incident, he was briefed by then state police Superintendent Col. Kevin Reeves in a May 2019 text that a suspect died following a police chase and a “violent, lengthy struggle” and that the LSP was investigating.

Edwards said he didn’t see video of the incident until October 2020. And when he did, he did not characterize the footage before it was released publicly because he was told by the Justice Department doing so could hinder their investigation.

“Clearly, anyone who has seen the videos will see that Mr. Greene did not die in a car accident. The initial text I received did not say he died in a car accident and if anyone ever said that, it was just plain wrong,” Edwards said. “I have never said that Mr. Greene died in a car accident.”

“What I have consistently said is that the cause of death is obviously a part of the investigation and that the state and federal prosecutors have to make the decision based on the proof that they have available to them,” he said.

When asked by a reporter why the governor allowed state police to claim Greene died in a car accident, Edwards rejected the premise that he “allowed” any narrative.

“I don’t agree that I have allowed that to happen,” the governor said. “If it has happened … by people who knew better and were saying something that was false, then that has to be dealt with. That cannot be tolerated.”

An attorney representing the Greene family told CNN they are not responding to the governor’s remarks due to a gag order on the case.

Earlier Tuesday, the governor also met with Legislative Black Caucus to discuss the AP report. Edwards was “very receptive” and “felt that things could have been done much better” than they were, Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus Chairman Vincent Pierre told CNN.

No one has been charged in Greene’s death.

Greene’s family has also filed a wrongful-death civil lawsuit against the state troopers involved in his death, as well as their superiors, seeking damages for payment for all medical and funeral expenses.

The troopers involved have maintained that Greene’s death “was caused by crash-related blunt force chest trauma that resulted in a fractured sternum and ruptured aorta” and have maintained they had to use force to restrain him “for their own personal safety and for the safety of the public,” according to court documents.

One of the troopers involved in Greene’s arrest, Dakota DeMoss, received a Letter of Counseling and Letter of Reprimand, according to the LSP. He was fired over an unrelated excessive force incident, CNN reported last year. CNN reached out to an attorney for DeMoss.

Kory York, another trooper involved in the May 2019 incident, received a 50-hour suspension for his role, according to the LSP. After serving his suspension, he returned to active duty pending the outcome of the review by federal and state authorities. An attorney for the trooper declined to comment when reached by CNN.

Trooper Chris Hollingsworth, also involved, was set to be terminated for violations regarding body-worn camera and car camera systems, use of force, performance, lawful orders and for conduct unbecoming an officer. But he died in a car crash before he could be fired, Louisiana State Police Col. Lamar Davis said last year. CNN also reached out to an attorney for Hollingsworth for a comment regarding the governor’s remarks.

A fourth officer, Lt. John Clary, was not disciplined due to insufficient evidence to prove or disprove the allegation that he intentionally withheld video evidence, according to the LSP. He remains on active duty. CNN reached out to an attorney for Clary.

Carl Cavalier, a Louisiana state trooper, who was not involved in Greene’s arrest, accused colleagues involved in Greene’s death of murder and an alleged internal cover-up, was notified last year he would be fired.