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5 officers are charged in the deadly 2019 arrest of a Black man in Louisiana

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Five law enforcement officers in Louisiana are now facing criminal charges in the deadly arrest of Black motorist Ronald Greene. He died in police custody in 2019 after a high-speed chase with state troopers. Two years later, bodycam video, initially suppressed, showed white officers brutally beating the 49-year-old Black man. These are the first charges to come in a case that has brought increased scrutiny on Louisiana state troopers and how they treat Black suspects. NPR's Debbie Elliott joins us now. Debbie, what are the charges?

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Well, the most serious is negligent homicide, and that's the charge against Master Trooper Kory York, along with 10 counts of malfeasance in office. Now, he is the one who is shown on this bodycam video dragging Greene by ankle shackles and then putting his foot on Greene's back to force him belly down on the ground. Three other Louisiana state troopers and then a sheriff's deputy also facing charges of malfeasance and obstruction of justice. Now, this indictment, A, comes after a grand jury in Union Parish heard evidence for about a month now, including some testimony from a medical expert who classified Greene's death a homicide. Now, that's contrary to the original coroner's report in this case that said he died from a drug-induced delirium that was complicated by a motor vehicle collision.

MARTÍNEZ: And a lot of the details of what happened to Ronald Greene were kind of just kept secret for a while, only emerging a while later. Remind us of those details.

ELLIOTT: So this was May in 2019. Excuse me. Greene was arrested after a high-speed chase, and authorities initially told his family he had died in a car crash near Monroe. This is in northeast Louisiana. And the case didn't really get that much attention at first. And then his family filed a lawsuit against state troopers, alleging excessive force. Now, the initial crash report said that Greene had refused to pull over on an unspecified traffic violation and that, once it ended in this crash, he struggled with troopers, they took him into custody and that he later became unresponsive and died on the way to the hospital. There was absolutely no mention of troopers using force.

Then this long-suppressed bodycam footage was obtained by the Associated Press last year, and it completely changed the narrative. It showed what happened at the end of that chase. Troopers rushed Greene's car. They stunned him. They beat him. Again, they dragged him by his shackles. They left him facedown. And he was begging for mercy the whole time. It's really difficult to watch. Now, since that, there are so many questions about whether state police officials were involved in a cover-up and who knew what really happened and when, including the governor of Louisiana.

MARTÍNEZ: Has Ronald Greene's family said anything?

ELLIOTT: You know, Greene's mother, after the indictment came down - her name is Mona Hardin - she said she was excited to have the indictments, but then she questioned - but the question is, are they really going to have to pay for this? The family has tried to keep pressure on authorities to get justice in this case, in what she considers her son's killing at the hands of troopers. Hardin says they just want something to stick. Now, we should also note here, A, that after the indictment came down - this was late yesterday - the head of the Louisiana State Police, Colonel Lamar Davis, said the actions are inexcusable and have no place in professional public safety services.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Now, these charges are from the state grand jury. Other investigations are happening. Who else is looking into this?

ELLIOTT: The Louisiana Legislature and the U.S. Justice Department. The Justice Department is looking into whether there's a pattern or practice of discrimination in the way Louisiana troopers treat Black suspects. And in the state investigation, lawmakers want testimony from Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards after reports he saw the police cam video early on but remained silent. His office says he's cooperating.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Debbie Elliott. Debbie, thanks.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.