The death of 49-year-old Black motorist Ronald Greene, initially reported by authorities as resulting from an automobile accident, has family and advocates accusing state police of a cover-up. These allegations come several months after video footage confirmed his savage beating on a roadside in Union Parish during a traffic stop by White state troopers in rural Louisiana.
According to court documents, Judge Thomas W. Rogers, of the state’s 3rd Judicial District, dropped obstruction charges July 10 against both Dakota DeMoss, a trooper responding to the alleged crash, who reportedly turned off body camera audio during the encounter, and John Peters, a troop commander, who allegedly told detectives to conceal evidence surrounding Mr. Greene’s arrest that fatal night on May 10, 2019.
As of Final Call press time, only three of the five officers continue to face charges. Not charged was Chris Hollingsworth, a trooper who died in a single-vehicle car accident according to media reports in September 2020, just hours after learning he would be fired for his role in Mr. Greene’s death.
The three remaining officers facing charges are Kory York, for negligent homicide and 10 counts of malfeasance in office; John Clary, for obstruction of justice and malfeasance in office; and Christopher Harpin, who was charged with three counts of malfeasance in office.
In response to an Associated Press investigation finding that Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, was informed of the deadly arrest just hours after it took place and that he remained silent for nearly two years after officials said the death was the result of a car crash, he said that what happened was “criminal” during a February 2022 press conference.
“I cannot imagine that had Mr. Greene been White, he would have been treated that way and so, I think we have to acknowledge racism when we see it, I think we have to make sure that we call it what it is,” the governor said after meeting with members of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus.
Stating that his opinion of the deadly encounter was the same now as it was before the videos were made public, he said his silence was to prevent the undermining of a credible investigation. “I had been asked by the U.S. Department of Justice that videos not be made public so as not to interfere or interrupt or compromise their investigation,” the governor said, noting that he first watched the videos nearly a year after the deadly arrest.
Mona Hardin, the mother of Ronald Greene, told The Final Call that her son was a cancer survivor and was in the process of moving out of the state to start a new life and celebrate his upcoming birthday. “He was in remission and we were really happy, and for him to go through all that and end up being killed in such a savage way is one of the most ugliest things,” she said.
“He was to be 50 that year and we had a conversation of what we were going to do and he loved to dance and he just said, ‘Momma, we’ve got to do the 50th in New Orleans,’ and that was the conversation, literally almost weekly, in trying to get the family ready, he would say: ‘Save your ducats (money),’ Ms. Hardin reflected.
“That’s the thing about Ronnie, no matter what the obstacles, no matter what was laid in front of him, he overcame it, he always thought positive.”
Cephus X Johnson, affectionately known as “Uncle Bobby X,” is a co-founder of the Oakland-based “Love not Blood Campaign,” a non-profit social justice organization dedicated to serving families suffering the loss of loved ones from police violence. He told The Final Call that both he and his wife took on the work of advocacy after a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officer killed his nephew, Oscar Grant, at the Fruitvale Station platform on New Year’s Day 2009.
“Mona Hardin had reached out to us and of course we invited her to our conference, to make sure she was able to come, and our relationship began to build,” Mr. Johnson said of how he and his organization became aware of Ms. Hardin’s plight and the story behind her son’s death. “Our relationship began to build and then we began to learn more about her case. That was in 2021, Ronald had been killed in 2019,” he said.
“After we became basically family, just by embracing her and loving her and supporting her, we went to the grand jury hearing that centered around whether these officers should be charged or not, and so, we were there in New Orleans,” he said. He accompanied the grief-stricken mother to subsequent court hearings on behalf of his organization.
Mr. Johnson described the process of justice for Robert Greene as being sandbagged with politics and riddled with obstacles, particularly after the appointment of a controversial special prosecutor, Hugo Holland. Mr. Holland was appointed by the Union Parish district attorney, but advocates for the family and social justice activists expressed concern that key elements of the case would be swept under the rug for the sake of political expediency and to whitewash those responsible for killing Mr. Greene.
According to an AP story on March 22, “Holland drew criticism as a local prosecutor for displaying a portrait in his office of Confederate general and early KKK leader Nathan Bedford Forrest. He once sent a fellow lawyer an email joking about chasing down ‘a Black guy or a Mex-can.’ And he wrote the judge in the 2021 Kyle Rittenhouse murder trial to say he would never have charged the teen acquitted of killing two people during unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, calling it a ‘good shoot,’” the news report read.
“Beyond that, Holland has served as a reserve police officer in Bossier City for 20 years and has been criticized for rarely prosecuting police, deciding in 2018 against charging two White sheriff’s deputies seen on body-camera video kicking a Black suspect in the face,” the AP stated.
Calls and e-mails to the Union Parish district attorney seeking clarification of these allegations were not returned by Final Call press time.
A whistleblower speaks out
Former Louisiana State Police trooper Carl Cavalier, whose assigned jurisdiction included Baton Rouge and New Orleans, told The Final Call that he first heard of the arrest and death of Ronald Greene in 2020, and said he overheard police officials speaking of the fatal encounter while assigned to the Morial Convention Center.
“I was stationed in New Orleans, sitting in the convention center where we were housing COVID-19 patients. I overheard an investigator speak about the case and speak candidly about the case, about videos, a trooper arriving on the scene of that incident and placing his foot on the back of Mr. Greene as he gurgled blood, so this investigator was describing all these things and my ears perked up,” Mr. Cavalier said of how he came to become a whistleblower over what he believed was a criminal act.
“So, I continued to listen and after that, I proceeded to dig, I proceeded to search for more information, and what I found was another investigator’s notes pertaining to that incident, and in his notes, he explained that he found the troopers and the officer that was on scene to be at fault and to be guilty of some charges that he would like to charge the troopers and the officer with and he went to his superiors,” said Mr. Cavalier.
“The colonel at the time told the investigator that he cannot arrest these troopers because he’s going to set a precedent throughout Louisiana, so he didn’t say these troopers were not guilty of the crimes, he just said that he didn’t want the trooper to go arrest these other troopers, so I spoke to my supervisors and no one wanted to do anything about it, I spoke to some of the Black older officers and troopers within the state police that I trusted, and they didn’t do anything about it,” he explained.
“I spoke to a Black state representative, and I reached out to him to let him know what I had, and what I saw, and what I found out, (and) he didn’t want to do anything about it. He was a member of the Black caucus, and they didn’t want to do anything about it. After that, I wrote a letter to the governor, I wrote a letter to the colonel, they pushed it under the rug, and they didn’t want to do anything about it. My last ditch effort was to go to the media,” Mr. Cavalier said.
Justice stands afar off
Speaking of the overly hostile climate facing many Black people in the United States, particularly in the South, the Eternal Leader of the Nation of Islam, the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, described oppressors as merciless devils, those hiding behind the color of law, abusing their authority through racist violence. On page 209 of his book, “Message to the Blackman in America,” he wrote:
“America knows that under her flag we have received nothing but hell, beatings, and killings without due process of law, day and night, not only in the past, but in the present,” referring to the White mob that broke into the Nation of Islam’s mosque in Monroe, Louisiana, attacking worshippers during a March 5, 1961 service, where the local minister, Brother Troy X (known today as Student Minister Abdul Bey Muhammad), was hanged by his necktie from the rafters in an attempt to kill him.
According to history, Minister Troy X’s tie broke and he fell to the ground before being beaten, arrested, and subsequently jailed on trumped-up charges associated with teaching the religion of Islam in the segregated South. Later, in 1962, during the night, Louisiana State Police officers took him from his cell to a swamp near the Mississippi state line and lynched him again, leaving him for dead, but he survived.
Messenger Muhammad wrote of this incident on page 211 of the same book where he continued, “If Troy X (Cade) is guilty of teaching insurrection against the government, then I am guilty, because I am Troy’s teacher. I would rather go to prison in place of Troy if this is the justice for the truth Allah gave me,” he said.
Student Minister Verbon Muhammad, the local representative of the Nation of Islam’s Muhammad Mosque No. 99, under the leadership of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, in Monroe, Louisiana, told The Final Call that his city is about 30 miles from Union Parish and when the story of the video of Ronald Greene’s death broke, he and many others, including the NAACP, reached out to his family to offer their support and to demand transparency in the investigation.
“When the mother comes to this area, they come to Monroe, which is the largest town in this area,” Student Minister Verbon Muhammad said. “So, she began to hold press conferences and we would stand with her, especially when they found out the leaked video, we were really there to support her and letting her know that the Nation of Islam stands with her, and as the student minister here, we will be with (her) through the end of this ordeal, until we receive justice.”
Quoting Isaiah 59:14, Student Minister Verbon Muhammad stated, “And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter,” he said.
“Our dear brother Ronald Greene knew the truth, but he’s dead now and he can’t speak the truth, so as the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said, ‘if we can’t get justice in their courts, I would say: Watch the weather,’ the God of Justice is well able to give us justice.”