NEW ORLEANS (AP) — In what may be the strongest evidence yet of an attempted cover-up in the deadly 2019 arrest of Ronald Greene
, the ranking Louisiana State Police
officer on the scene falsely told internal investigators that the Black man was still a threat to flee after he was shackled, and he denied the existence of his own body
camera video for nearly two years until it was released just last month.
New state police documents obtained by The Associated Press
show numerous discrepancies between Lt. John Clary
's statements to detectives and the body camera footage he denied having, adding to growing evidence of obfuscation in Greene's death
, which white troopers initially blamed on a car crash at the end of a high-speed chase and is now the subject of a federal civil rights investigation
The case has sparked national interest since last week, when the Associated Press published graphic body camera videos showing troopers repeatedly jolting Greene with stun guns
, putting him in a chokehold, punching him, and dragging him by his ankle shackles. It also highlights the importance of video as key evidence in police misconduct, as it did in George Floyd
's death a year ago.
“Video does not lie, and body camera footage is the best way to protect the integrity of law enforcement agencies,” said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission
, a New Orleans-based watchdog group.
However, Clary, the highest-ranking officer among at least six state troopers present at Greene's arrest on May 10, 2019, told investigators later that day that he had no body camera footage of the incident — a claim that was proven false when his 30-minute body camera video of the arrest surfaced last month.
Clary, who arrived on the scene just seconds after troopers stunned, choked, and punched Greene into handcuffs, told investigators that Greene "was still, yelling and screaming
... and he was still resisting, even though he was handcuffed. He was still trying to get away and was not cooperating."
Investigators wrote in a six-page report filed less than three weeks ago that Clary's description of Greene's demeanor after he was cuffed on a dark roadside near Monroe was clearly a mischaracterization. Though they did not explicitly state it, the false statements were apparently intended to justify further uses of force by troopers against the prone Greene, including dragging him facedown.
“The video evidence in this case does not show Greene screaming, resisting, or attempting to flee,” Detective Albert Paxton wrote in the new report, noting that the only screams revealed by the video were when Greene responded to force applied to him.
According to the report, Clary’s own video, which was published by the AP last week and later released by the state, shows Greene “lying on the ground, face down, handcuffed behind his back, leg shackles on his ankles, uttering the phrases, ‘I’m sorry,’ ‘I’m scared,’ ‘Yes sir,’ or ‘Okay.”
Clary's video shows troopers ordering the heavyset, 49-year-old Greene to remain facedown on the ground with his hands and feet restrained for more than nine minutes — a tactic that use-of-force experts criticized as dangerous and likely to have restricted his breathing. Greene can be seen struggling to prop himself up on his side on Clary's footage.
“Don't turn over! Lay on your belly! Lay on your belly!” Trooper Kory York yells before dragging Greene by the chain that connects his ankle shackles for a few moments.
Paxton wrote in the new report, “Lt. Clary’s video clearly shows Greene to be suffering,” adding that the handcuffed man can be heard “gasping for air.”
Though what happens next to Greene is not visible in the video, investigators wrote that “Greene’s eyes are squeezed shut as he shakes his head back and forth moaning in pain, movements consistent with being sprayed in the face with (pepper) spray.”
According to the records, Trooper York asked Greene if he had his attention now, and a local deputy assisting in the arrest added, "Yeah, that sh hurts, doesn't it?"
Clary also told investigators that his troopers sat Greene up and “immediately held his head up so he could get a clear airway,” which was another false statement noted in the report.
In Clary's video, troopers said they didn't want to sit Greene up because they were afraid he'd spit blood on them.
Clary tells them, "Then don't do that."
Even after troopers sat Greene up, his head was slumped down on his chest, and they did not lift his head to create a clear airway for nearly six minutes.
“The officers had the duty and obligation to ensure that he could breathe... and they chose not to do that,” said Andrew Scott, a former Boca Raton, Florida
, police chief who testifies as an expert in use-of-force cases.
“When he was in handcuffs, he was completely compliant; all he wanted to do was turn over onto his side,” Scott added. “He couldn’t resist. He was incapable of resisting.”
Clary, a 31-year veteran of the Louisiana State Police, did not respond to phone and text messages
seeking comment on Monday, and a State Police spokesman did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
The investigators noted that Clary cannot claim he was unaware his body camera was recording, citing a moment on his video when he points to his own camera in an apparent warning to one of his troopers at the scene of Greene's arrest, and another point where a trooper "pointed out that Lt. Clary's body camera was recording, causing Lt. Clary to immediately turn it off."
The hidden video is just the latest anomaly in the law enforcement response to Greene's death. Troopers initially told Greene's family that he died in a car crash, and later the state police issued a brief statement acknowledging a struggle with officers and that Greene died on the way to the hospital, but no mention was made of any use of force by troopers.
State police also did not launch an administrative investigation into the troopers' use of force until 474 days after Greene's death, and Louisiana officials from Gov. John Bel Edwards on down repeatedly refused to publicly release any body camera video of Greene's arrest for more than two years, until last week, when the Associated Press began publishing videos it obtained.
The Associated Press obtained a 10-page autopsy report last week, which revealed that state police failed to turn over even the most routine documents relating to Greene's arrest, such as police reports, collision details, or emergency medical records, to forensic pathologists.
“The lack of transparency smacks of a potential cover-up,” Goyeneche said, adding that if the Louisiana State Police had been vigilant and on top of their game, there would have been discipline and terminations in this case years ago.