In the first investigation of its kind in over two decades, the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating an entire state agency. In this case, it is the Louisiana State Police, and the reason why is disturbing.
The US Department of Justice said Thursday it’s opening an investigation into whether the Louisiana State Police engages in racially discriminatory policing and uses excessive force – a development that follows high-profile cases including the 2019 death in police custody of Black motorist Ronald Greene.
Justice Department teams already have been conducting a criminal investigation into Greene’s death – and the new probe announced Thursday is separate and wider, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a news conference in Baton Rouge.
The new investigation will focus on “whether the Louisiana State Police has a pattern or practice of using excessive force,” and whether the agency “engages in racially discriminatory policing practice against Black people and other people of color,” Clarke said.
It comes after the Justice Department received disturbing reports that “officers target Black residents in their traffic enforcement practices,” Clarke said. Some reports include the alleged use of racial slurs and derogatory terms, as well as the use of Tasers and blows to the heads of motorists, she said.
“We received information about … repeated use of excessive force, often against people who are suspected of minor traffic offenses; are already handcuffed; or are not resisting,” Clarke said.
“In some cases, the injuries these individuals suffered were severe, including the death of at least one individual,” Clarke said.
Even without the racial component, the concept itself is disturbing.
The federal probe, the first such action against a statewide law enforcement agency in more than two decades, comes more than three years after white troopers were captured on long-withheld body-camera video beating, stunning, and dragging Greene on a rural roadside near Monroe. Despite lengthy, ongoing federal and state investigations into a death that troopers initially blamed on a car crash, no one has yet been charged.
AP’s reporting found troopers have made a habit of turning off or muting body cameras during pursuits. When footage is recorded, the agency has routinely refused to release it. And a recently retired supervisor who oversaw a particularly violent clique of troopers told internal investigators last year that it was his “common practice” to rubber-stamp officers’ use-of-force reports without ever reviewing body-camera video.
In some cases, troopers omitted uses of force such as blows to the head from official reports, and in others troopers sought to justify their actions by claiming suspects were violent, resisting, or escaping, all of which were contradicted by video footage.
That being the case, such an investigation is warranted, racial component involved or not.