New bodycam footage is raising more questions about the deadly arrest of a Black man, Ronald Greene, in Louisiana during a 2019 traffic stop in the city of Monroe. Family members said police originally told them Greene died in a car accident, but the Associated Press obtained video of Louisiana state troopers electrocuting, beating and dragging Greene. Greene’s family has filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit, and Greene’s death is also being federally investigated. Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney representing the family of Ronald Greene, says the family had to fight for a year and a half before being allowed to view police video of Greene’s death, which revealed “the full extent of just how brutal and gratuitous” the violence was. “We’re looking for criminal charges to move forward against these officers at the state level and at the federal level.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re going to turn now to what’s taking place — a warning to our audience: This story contains disturbing footage of police violence.
New bodycam footage is raising more questions about the deadly arrest of a Black man in Louisiana two years ago. It was May 10th, 2019. The Associated Press first obtained video of Louisiana state troopers electrocuting, beating and dragging Ronald Greene during a traffic stop after a high-speed chase in the city of Monroe. Family members said police originally told them Greene died in a car accident. They made no mention of the officers using force.
Well, last week, the Associated Press released portions of a 46-minute video that showed two troopers shocking Greene with a stun gun through his car window, then dragging him out of his car on the side of a dark rural road as Greene tells them, quote, “Officer, I am scared. I’m your brother. I’m scared.” One of the officers puts Greene in a chokehold and punches him in the face, while another can be heard calling him a “stupid MFer” — using the full words. Greene was shocked again, tased again, while lying on the ground in handcuffs and ordered to stay on his stomach as he desperately tried to roll over.
Again, a warning to our viewers: This clip from the video is disturbing.
KORY YORK: Lay on your belly! Lay on your belly!
RONALD GREENE: Yes, sir! OK, OK, sir.
KORY YORK: You better lay on your [bleep] belly like I told you to!
RONALD GREENE: OK! Yes, sir!
KORY YORK: Do you understand?
RONALD GREENE: Yes, sir! [screaming]
KORY YORK: Yeah!
AMY GOODMAN: After the officers beat Ronald Greene, the AP reports they left him unattended, face down, for more than nine minutes as officers refused to render aid, instead washing blood off their own hands and faces. Greene arrived dead at the local hospital with two Taser prongs in his back. Again, police initially told Greene’s family he died in a car crash. A recently released coroner’s report says his head injuries and the way he was restrained were factors in his death.
Ronald Greene was 49 years old and worked as a barber. He had recently gone into remission after battling cancer for two years and was reportedly on his way to meet his wife in Florida when he was stopped by the Louisiana State Police troopers. Greene’s family has filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit, and his death is now being investigated by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Louisiana and the FBI.
On Friday, Louisiana State Police released more bodycam videos from the arrest of Ronald Greene. The Louisiana state troopers in the deadly arrest were all part of Troop F, all of them white. Trooper Kory York, who is seen on video dragging Greene by the shackles on his ankles, even though Greene is not resisting, got a 50-hour suspension and has returned to active duty. Trooper Chris Hollingsworth, who’s heard in the video saying he, quote, “beat the ever-living f— out of” Greene, later died in a car crash, hours after he learned he would be fired for his actions. Trooper Dakota DeMoss has since been arrested in connection with a separate allegation of excessive force while handcuffing a motorist. Lawyers for Greene’s family have also called for the arrest of officer Floyd McElroy.
This is the mother of Ronald Greene, Mona Hardin, speaking to CNN.
MONA HARDIN: The state of Louisiana has no credibility. They’re an organized crime ring that’s gone on for hundreds and hundreds of years. You can see this time and time again. The murder of my son, you can just see it, from the very beginning to end. It implicates those who are on there, and then some. And it’s just like Mr. Merritt said. You know, they have no credibility. They continue to try to shy away from, and shine the light on other issues that has nothing to do with my son’s murder. I’m disgusted. … I just haven’t grieved. And I haven’t even screamed. I haven’t cried. And they have — there’s no empathy for how they do another human being, and they let the families continue to suffer.
AMY GOODMAN: These latest revelations about the case of Ronald Greene come just days before the first anniversary of the killing of George Floyd, May 25th, 2020, when police officer Derek Chauvin murdered Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds during an arrest in Minneapolis. George Floyd’s family and activists are calling for today to be a day of action, a day to urge federal lawmakers to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The push is part of a week-long series of events organized to honor the life and legacy of George Floyd.
For more, we’re joined by Lee Merritt, civil rights attorney representing the family of Ronald Greene, also part of the legal team for the family of George Floyd, as well as for the families of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Lee. I want to start with the latest revelations in the Ronald Greene case. Again, he was killed two years ago, but it was just this week that first AP released video footage and then the Louisiana State Police released footage. But talk about this case, what the family understood at the time, this cancer survivor, and what they know now.
LEE MERRITT: Well, the family was told initially that Ron had died in a car accident. It took just a mild bit of investigation to discover that was true. The family demanded to see his body. And his body was covered in not only dirt and blood, but bruises from his head and from the injuries that he had sustained during the beating, with no real narrative to explain it. The medical examiner was not given the proper narrative about what happened on the side of the road, and that video was obscured.
It took about a year and a half before the family was finally allowed to see the video this past September. And then we realized, you know, the full extent of just how brutal and gratuitous the violence that was directed at him was. But by that time, the Louisiana State Police apparatus had already meted out its punishment, which was that 50-hour suspension for one officer, Kory York, and one termination for Chris Hollingsworth, who went on to die in a single car accident the same day he was terminated.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, when people saw this AP footage — I mean, obviously, the parallels are horrific. Talk about Troop F, the calling for its dismantling, this group that stopped him. I mean, they stopped him for an unspecified traffic violation. He sped away. They went after him. And then, when they got him, he kept saying, “I am afraid.”
LEE MERRITT: I appreciate that you took your time to lay out the names of the officers. One officer that you left out — it was in a very important clip for us — was the video, bodycam footage of Lieutenant John Clary, because he’s the supervisor who came to the scene after these officers from Troop F, specifically Kory York, Chris Hollingsworth and Dakota DeMoss, had already set upon Ronald. And when Lieutenant Clary arrived to the scene, these men were still actively engaged in torturing a then-handcuffed and hogtied Ronald Greene. They were still apparently spraying him with pepper spray, mocking him in the process. You could hear them saying things like “Yeah, it hurts, doesn’t it?” And Lieutenant Clary approved their actions. He ratified their actions on behalf of the Louisiana State Police.
It’s so important that that supervisor came to the scene, observed everything that was going on, and gave everyone an “attaboy,” because it reveals that this was in fact not only the culture, but the de facto policy for the Louisiana State Police. And it’s an open policy that we all know. When we’re honest with ourselves, we know that when a Black man runs from police in places like Louisiana, you can expect a gratuitous beatdown. And although it’s not the official policy, that supervisor’s response to it taking place, and then the cover-up that took place for the next two years, but for the AP leak, is evidence that this is accepted culture in the state of Louisiana.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re calling for the arrest of Kory York, John Clary, Dakota DeMoss?
LEE MERRITT: We’re calling for those arrests, and we think that there should be both state and federal charges. The Union Parish district attorney, who is responsible for reviewing the case, he said he immediately observed that this was a criminal matter that should be referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. And he was right. These were clear civil rights violations, constitutional violations for Ronald Greene, and not only by the officers on the scene, but by the cover-up, the supervisors who facilitated the behavior. But there still remains Louisiana state codes, Louisiana Constitution and protections for citizens, like Ronald Greene, and there must be accountability at a state level, as well — not either/or, but both. And so we’re looking for criminal charges to move forward against these officers at the state level and at the federal level.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your conversation with John Belton, the district attorney for the 3rd Judicial District in Louisiana.
LEE MERRITT: So, Mr. Belton was — he had the concern that by presenting this case to a Union Parish grand jury at the time the Trump administration was still in office, that it would be unlikely that a very conservative sort of jury pool would return an indictment against these officers. More importantly, these officers were involved in other cases in his jurisdiction as witnesses, as investigators, as reporters. So there’s a conflict in the Union Parish district — or, I should say, yeah, Union Parish, for these officers. So, it would be appropriate, we believe, for Mr. Belton to recuse himself — that’s what we ask that he do — and that a special prosecutor be allowed to pursue state charges.
AMY GOODMAN: And then, the history of the Louisiana governor?
LEE MERRITT: Yeah. So, the Louisiana governor, it’s important to know that although he’s a Democratic governor and, you know, has made —
AMY GOODMAN: This is John Bel Edwards.
LEE MERRITT: Yeah, John Bel Edwards, who’s paid lip service to the Black Lives Matter movement, for the students at places like Louisiana State University. His father is a sheriff. His grandfather was a sheriff. He signed in the Blue Lives Matter legislation that made it a hate crime to target police officers in Louisiana. And his actions have shown that he’s willing to go to bat for law enforcement but has failed to take concrete steps to really remedy very real issues of violence, mass incarceration and systemic racism within the Louisiana State Police Department.
So, again, he’s moved towards the Black community with lip service, especially over the last year, but in terms of tangible, concrete results, we’ve seen very little. And we’re looking for specific actions in this case, including him instructing the attorney general to vigorously prosecute these men for the local state charges, and participating fully with a federal review of his state police — not only this troop, but the culture within the Louisiana State Troopers Office generally.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about how racism has shaped law enforcement, particularly in the South? You have talked about the origin of the slave patrols.
LEE MERRITT: I’m sorry. I missed the question.
AMY GOODMAN: Oh, the issue of how racism has shaped law —
LEE MERRITT: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: — and influenced law enforcement.
LEE MERRITT: Sure. And I don’t think I’ve seen a more graphic example of the continuation of the slave culture than this scene. It invokes the images of slave catchers hunting down a runaway slave. And it’s really from that spring that this culture drew from. You had to punish runaway slaves in places like Louisiana, if they ran, to send an example to other enslaved persons that they’re not allowed to run, or they would receive this kind of violence. That culture, that training is still alive and well today, in a way that I think a lot of Americans will find very off-putting, but it hasn’t gone anywhere in the hundreds of years that this culture has set in.
AMY GOODMAN: That whole issue of, in fact, Ronald Greene being hogtied. We see, in this video that was released by AP, one of those police officers — you can tell us his name — who puts his knee on his back — and again, the parallels with George Floyd. In this case, though, he was just left to die for nine minutes while they washed his blood off of them.
LEE MERRITT: And it’s so important to note that even after this video has come out, the Louisiana State Police has described the incident as “awful but lawful.” They don’t have any shame in what we’re watching there. They’re ashamed that we all have to watch it, but they don’t believe that the use of force was gratuitous. They believe that because of Ronald Greene’s — according to their own statements, because of Ronald Greene’s failure to immediately pull his car over, that the subsequent violent acts, the repeated tasing, the torture, despite him being handcuffed and fully compliant, was appropriate. And that is the kind of thing that still goes on in the Louisiana State Troopers Office.
So it’s important that as we start to push towards remedy, that first everyone involved in this attack and the cover-up is held criminally accountable, but there must be a pattern and practice review of that entire policing apparatus. If the culture and the de facto policies and procedures are constitutionally violative, then we must take affirmative steps — actual actions — to ensure the safety of Black and Brown Louisianans.
AMY GOODMAN: Again, this Troop F, of its 66 Troop F members, just six are Black. The area they patrol is 40% African American?
LEE MERRITT: Yeah, that’s correct. And this troop is notorious for brutality in the region. The officers who were involved in this violence went on, after the death of Ronald Greene, to participate in the brutalization, and even death, of other members of the Louisiana community. You mentioned in your opening that one of the officers, Dakota DeMoss, is facing criminal charges, but not as it relates to the murder of Ronald Greene or even the aggravated assault of Ronald Greene, but for a completely separate incident. That is also true of Chris Hollingsworth. Before he passed away, it was discovered that he had other incidents of violence attached to him that the leadership structure in Louisiana helped to cover up for.
I think in the coming days and weeks we’re going to find a litany of violence and cover-up and corruption within the Louisiana State Police Department. And it’s important that we don’t turn our heads away. But the same way that the community focused on accountability for George Floyd, we need to hone in and focus on accountability for Ronald Greene and a restructuring of the legal — law enforcement system in Louisiana.