Federal authorities have opened a civil rights investigation and a Louisiana State Police trooper has been placed on leave as new questions have surfaced about the death of a Black man after a high-speed chase in northern Louisiana last year.
Relatives of the man, Ronald Greene, 49, were initially told that he had died from injuries he sustained in a crash after he failed to stop for a traffic violation, a lawyer for his family said. But photos that recently circulated online — the images appear to show Mr. Greene’s bruised and bloodied face and damage to his car that the family says is inconsistent with a fatal accident — have raised questions about what really happened.
“The brutality used against him, that was not what his family was told,” Lee Merritt, a lawyer representing Mr. Greene’s family, said in an interview on Sunday. “It appears that Mr. Greene was sat upon by several officers who tased him repeatedly and beat him before he entered cardiac arrest.”
The photos were shared on social media after the president of the N.A.A.C.P.’s Baton Rouge branch posted them on Facebook last week. The images were also included in a wrongful-death lawsuit that Mr. Greene’s family filed in May arguing that he died as a result of a struggle with troopers that “left him beaten, bloodied and in cardiac arrest.”
Mr. Greene’s death has drawn renewed attention after the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis in May touched off worldwide protests against police brutality and calls for racial justice. It is also drawing scrutiny weeks after the Louisiana State Police came under fire for failing to discipline a trooper for using a racial slur against another officer in 2017.
One of the Louisiana State Police troopers involved in the encounter with Mr. Greene, Chris Hollingsworth, was placed on paid administrative leave, said Capt. Chavez Cammon, a spokesman for the department. It was unclear if the federal investigation had prompted that decision.
After Mr. Greene’s death, the Louisiana State Police “immediately began an investigation,” Captain Cammon said. The agency has submitted its findings to the Union Parish District Attorney’s Office, he said, and is cooperating with the federal investigation.
Captain Cammon said he could not release body camera footage or the police report on the chase and its aftermath because it was the subject of an “administrative and criminal” investigation.
A single-page crash report reviewed by The Associated Press says troopers tried to stop Mr. Greene for an unspecified traffic violation just after midnight on May 10, 2019, north of Monroe, La. Mr. Greene, who lived in Monroe, refused to pull over and troopers pursued him, The A.P. reported, citing the document.
The report says the chase ended when Mr. Greene’s vehicle crashed, according to The A.P.
“Greene was taken into custody after resisting arrest and a struggle with troopers,” the report says, adding that he “became unresponsive” and died as he was being taken to a hospital. The report does not mention any use of force by troopers, The A.P. said.
John F. K. Belton, the district attorney for the Third Judicial District in Louisiana, declined to comment, citing the state and federal investigations.
The F.B.I., the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Louisiana are handling the federal investigation, according to a spokeswoman for the F.B.I.’s New Orleans field office.
“The F.B.I. will collect all available facts and evidence and will ensure that the investigation is conducted in a fair, thorough and impartial manner,” the spokeswoman, Alicia Irmscher, said in a statement. “As this is an ongoing investigation we are not able to comment further at this time.”
In their lawsuit, Mr. Greene’s relatives said that the State Police told them that Mr. Greene died after his car struck a tree, but that the police did not mention a struggle with troopers.
The front of Mr. Greene’s car did not strike anything and his airbag did not deploy, the lawsuit said. Mr. Greene got out of the car uninjured and could “walk, speak and otherwise function in a healthy manner” after the crash, according to the lawsuit.
As more troopers arrived at the scene, Mr. Greene apologized for leading the chase, according to the lawsuit. Two troopers pinned him down and “individually and in concert used lethal force against Greene,” including shocking him three times with a Taser as he begged them to stop.
Officers called an ambulance. When it arrived, emergency medical technicians found Mr. Greene unresponsive with multiple Taser barbs in his body, according to the lawsuit.
Mr. Greene’s death was ruled accidental and was attributed to cardiac arrest, Renee Smith, the Union Parish coroner, told The A.P., adding that his file mentions the car crash but not a struggle with the police.
The family commissioned an independent autopsy that found severe injuries to Mr. Greene’s head and skull, and several wounds to his face, Mr. Merritt, the lawyer, said. After examining the damage to Mr. Greene’s car, which was mostly on the rear driver’s side, an accident reconstruction expert found it was “inconsistent with a fatal collision,” Mr. Merritt said.