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DOJ opens probe into Louisiana State Police for racial discrimination, excessive force

Civil investigation will determine if a pattern of racial discrimination and excessive force exists.

BATON ROUGE, La. — The Justice Department will investigate the Louisiana State Police for a 'pattern-or-practice' of racial discrimination and excessive force.

A Thursday press conference by Kristen Clark, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the DOJ, announced a joint civil rights investigation into state police and the state of Louisiana.

The investigation will determine if Louisiana State Police engaged in a pattern that violated the constitution or federal law.

The investigation comes three years after Donald Greene's fatal arrest by state police, where body footage showed Greene being beaten and dragged by troopers after crashing his vehicle in a high-speed chase.

However, Clark clarified that the DOJ is already investigating Ronald Greene's death and that the latest's probe is a separate, larger investigation of policing by LSP.

Clark said that the investigation will focus on two main issues - if LSP has a pattern or practice of excessive force and if they engaged in racially discriminatory policing.

"We will review incident reports, body-worn camera footage, and other data and documentation collected by the department," Clark said. "We will also review Louisiana State policies, training materials and supervision records, as well as documents relating to systems of accountability, including how complaints are investigated, and how discipline is imposed."

Clark added that investigators will meet with community members throughout the state and will open a voicemail and email so people can submit tips directly to the department. Investigators will also work alongside troopers to understand officers' interactions with the community.

Clark said that the DOJ and U.S Attorneys have the support and cooperation of State Police Colonel Lamar Davis and Governor John Bel Edwards and their respective offices in this civil rights investigation.

"I welcome the U.S Department of Justice’s civil investigation into the patterns and practices of Louisiana State Police," Edwards said in a statement. "It is deeply troubling that allegations of systemic misconduct exist that would warrant this type of investigation, but it is absolutely critical that all Louisianans, especially African Americans and other people of color, have their faith, confidence, and trust in public safety officers restored."

"Our personnel truly make a difference in our communities and I am grateful for the sacrifices they make on behalf of public safety. That does not change the fact that we have had some employees violate the trust of our citizens and of their colleagues," Davis said. "When that occurs, it is incumbent upon our agency to uphold our public safety oath and make the changes necessary to ensure that this does not ever happen again."

U.S. Attorney Brandon B. Brown of Lousiana's Western District hopes that this investigation can help repair the relationship between State Police and members of the community.

"Unfortunately, many citizens of Louisiana have not had that feeling [of safety and security] around officers because of the actions of a few officers breaking the law and abusing power. When officers break the law, they abuse and violate that trust," Brown said.

'Significant Justification'

Clark said that the DOJ has found "significant justification" based on extensive review. The DOJ's findings included various allegations of excessive force used on people suspected of minor crimes, "severe" brutality, targeting of the African-American population, use of racial slurs, and other accusations.

"There are reports that Officers target black residents in their traffic enforcement and use of their excessive force. I will point out that Louisiana has [one of the] highest percentages of Black residents in the country at nearly 30%," Clark said. "Some of the reports include disturbing information such as racial slurs and racially derogatory language and reports of unwarranted force in pursuits such as the use of tasers and blows to the head." 

An Associated Press report from September 2021 found a pattern of racially discriminatory policing and excessive force on African-American individuals by Louisiana State Police.

The report also found that State Troopers had ignored or concealed incriminating bodycam footage, omitted key information from reports, made statements in reports that contradicted bodycam footage (such as in Greene's death), and impeded efforts to investigate misconduct, among other various findings.

The ACLU of Louisiana had called for a DOJ investigation into Louisiana State Police back in 2021. The organization released a statement Thursday responding to the news of the DOJ's investigation.

"This commitment by AAG Clarke and the DOJ to identify and remedy systemic misconduct symbolizes far more than a small step, it is a huge leap in furtherance of justice for Louisianans whose rights have been violated by this cruel and corrupt agency," Executive Director Alanah Odoms said.

U.S. Attorney Ronald Gathe, who serves in the state's middle district, spoke at the press conference.

Gathe praised the cooperation between all parties and emphasized the importance of a transparent, fair, and accurate investigation.

He said that it is important to re-examine practices not only to see what changes may be necessary but to restore community trust in State Police.

Duane Evans, a U.S Attorney for Louisiana's eastern district, reiterated his faith in the Louisiana State Police but made it clear that violations would not be ignored.

"Most State Troopers support the constitution and are public servants," Evans said. "But we cannot ignore any violations, especially a possible pattern of violations. Under the law, we are all equal."

Clark said this is the fifth investigation into police misconduct by DOJ since the beginning of the Biden administration. The DOJ is also investigating patterns of misconduct by Police departments in Louisville, Phoenix, Minneapolis, and Mount Vernon.

However, this is only the second time in the last two decades that the DOJ has opened an investigation of a State Police department specifically.

Clark said that if the DOJ's findings result in reasonable cause to believe there is a pattern or practice of brutality, they will release a public report and work with the state to find a solution.

However, Clark made it clear that if the state is unable to reach an agreement with the DOJ, the department will be authorized to bring forward a civil lawsuit.

"If there is reasonable cause to believe there is a pattern or practice of constitutional or statutory violations, we will release a public report and reach an agreement with the state for a solution. If we do not reach an agreement, we are authorized to bring forth a civil lawsuit against the state." Clark said.

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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