How La. governor’s top staff responded to Ronald Greene fallout
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Dozens of text messages and emails show staffers in Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office attempting to manage a response to fallout over the death of Ronald Greene.
The messages were provided to WAFB-TV in response to a public records request.
They consist of select messages between the governor and leaders at Louisiana State Police (LSP); messages between spokeswomen in the governor’s office, the media, and other state agencies; and exchanges between the governor’s executive counsel and federal investigators.
Greene died in police custody in 2019. Officials said he refused to pull over for a traffic stop and led troopers on a chase across northern Louisiana. That chase ended when Greene’s vehicle crashed into a tree, documents state.
Greene’s family claimed they were told he died as a result of the crash, but Louisiana State Police leaders said they never said that. Investigations revealed Greene survived the crash and became unresponsive after a struggle with law enforcement.
TEXT EXCHANGES WITH MATTHEW BLOCK:
One set of messages shows investigators were in direct contact with the governor’s top lawyer, Matthew Block.
In one group of text messages, Block is observed communicating with a U.S. attorney who previously oversaw the federal civil rights investigation into Greene’s death, Alexander Van Hook.
The two discuss a report from the Associated Press, which details findings from an autopsy of Greene’s body. That autopsy raised questions about the theory that Greene’s death could be attributed to the car crash instead of beatings by law enforcement.
“We don’t want to comment on the autopsy without seeing it, but it appears [The Associated Press is] trying to bring the Governor into the story,” said Block.
Other messages between Block and Hook deal with another man who was harmed in Louisiana State Police custody, Aaron Bowman.
“What is the name of the family other than the Greene family?” asked Hook.
“The alleged victim’s name [is] Aaron Bowman. I can get all the family names for you,” responded Block.
“Ok. It is sad to say but we have a lot of these cases open. I am still checking into it,” said Hook.
Block also spoke with Union Parish District Attorney John Belton.
Belton asked for the date that the governor’s office would release body camera footage of Greene’s arrest to Greene’s family. Block informed Belton of the date, and he also said that LSP would helicopter Belton to Baton Rouge to meet with the Greene family.
In later messages, Belton offered to answer questions from the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, and he further offered to “reconsider” another meeting with Greene’s family if it caused any “issues” with Block.
Block also communicated with the former head of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, Ted James (D - Baton Rouge)
“I know both of you are sick of hearing from me regarding state police. Trust me, I’m equally as sick of the accusations I’m getting in my community about my constant decision not to throw [John Bel Edwards] under the bus,” wrote James. “At this point it’s hard to believe that all of this [expletive] is going on without a blessing from the 4th floor. I can’t keep ignoring the issue because I like the Governor this isn’t my last political office.”
James goes on to say other members of the black caucus were “equally as sick and tired of being criticized in their districts.” He finished by saying, “waiting on the feds is no longer an option in my opinion.”
Block was also in touch with political strategist Jacques Morial. Morial advised Block that quotes from one of the governor’s radio interviews were “most counterproductive.”
“It’s just not credible for the governor to say: ‘the coverup part of it…much of that is overblown or just false…’ That bit won’t age well at all,” wrote Morial. “Nor is it credible for the governor to suggest that the unpredictable biked, merciless beating Ronald [Greene] suffered before he was dragged handcuffed, face down across the highway was [but] a contributing cause of Mr. Greene’s death.”
Morial finished by saying, “I know there is a lot going on, but I’m still disappointed the governor didn’t have a better, more thoughtful response.”
GOVERNOR’S MESSAGES WITH LEADERS AT LOUISIANA STATE POLICE
Records reveal the governor exchanged messages with current and former leaders at Louisiana State Police about the Greene case.
Davis explained the outcome of an investigation into why certain body camera videos of Greene’s death had not been properly submitted to Union Parish District Attorney John Belton. Davis’ message said investigators could not find any proof that the videos had been intentionally withheld.
The governor also exchanged messages with former LSP superintendent Mike Edmonson. Edmonson offered to help the governor after his successor, former superintendent Kevin Reeves, stepped down.
“Kevin Reeves is the right choice for that position and I’m sorry he decided to step down,” wrote Edmonston. “I know everyone within his command staff and would love to give you any insight you might need.”
Edmonston later messaged the governor after Col. Lamar Davis was announced as Reeves’ successor, and Lt. Doug Cain was announced as Davis’ second in command.
“...You made two excellent selections today. My thoughts were the same,” wrote Edmonson.
“I feel very good about Lamar and Doug,” responded Edwards.
GOVERNOR’S COMMUNICATIONS OFFICE MANAGES RESPONSE
The bulk of the messages sent and received by the governor’s spokeswomen show them coordinating with Louisiana State Police’s Public Affairs office.
Records show the two offices messaging back and forth about the wording on the governor’s statements and responding to questions from news reporters.
The group also shared links to news articles about the case.
Greene’s arrest and death resulted in several federal probes. It’s unclear when findings from the case will be presented to a federal grand jury.
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