Thursday, 24 September 2020

Cop is killed in car crash just hours after finding out he would be fired for his role in custody death of black man who was 'brutalized' by officers after high-speed chase

 A Louisiana state trooper died following a single-vehicle highway crash that happened just hours after he learned he would be fired for his role last year in the in-custody death of a black man.

Master Trooper Chris Hollingsworth was pronounced dead Tuesday following a brief hospitalization, said Warren Lee, chief investigator for the Ouachita Parish Coroner's Office.

Hollingsworth had been airlifted to Shreveport after crashing his personal vehicle on Interstate 20 near Monroe at around 3am Monday morning while off-duty. 

Police have not released any details about how the crash occurred but WBRZ reported that the vehicle had been traveling at a high rate of speed. 

Monroe Police Department are investigating the wreck. The autopsy and toxicology reports are pending.  

Hours before, Hollingsworth had received word that State Police intended to terminate him following an internal investigation into the May 2019 death of Ronald Greene, a case that has drawn mounting scrutiny and become the subject of a federal civil rights investigation.

Authorities initially said Greene died after crashing his vehicle into a tree following a high-speed chase in rural northern Louisiana that began over an unspecified traffic violation. 

But Greene's family alleges troopers used excessive force and 'brutalized' him while taking him into custody.

State Police, despite growing pressure, have repeatedly declined to release body-camera footage and other records related to Greene's arrest. 

Ronald Greene, pictured, died in May 2019 after authorities say he crashed into a tree following a high-speed chase in rural northern Louisiana that began over an unspecified traffic violation. His family claim that state police brutalized him and caused his death

Ronald Greene, pictured, died in May 2019 after authorities say he crashed into a tree following a high-speed chase in rural northern Louisiana that began over an unspecified traffic violation. His family claim that state police brutalized him and caused his death

This undated photo provided by the family of Ronald Greene in September 2020 shows Greene's vehicle after it was released by the Louisiana State Police. The police claim he denied from injuries sustained in the crash but Greene's family filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit in May 2020 alleging troopers 'brutalized' Greene and caused his death

This undated photo provided by the family of Ronald Greene in September 2020 shows Greene's vehicle after it was released by the Louisiana State Police. The police claim he denied from injuries sustained in the crash but Greene's family filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit in May 2020 alleging troopers 'brutalized' Greene and caused his death

State Police spokesman Capt. Chavez Cammon said it could not be released as it's the subject of an 'administrative and criminal' investigation. 

Hollingsworth was placed on leave the same day that the Associated Press filed a records request for the footage.  

Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday he has not seen the footage but pledged to make it public once the ongoing investigations are concluded.

'When that happens,' he said, 'the videos will be shown.'

Greene's family called for 'the immediate arrest of the remaining men responsible for this tragic and unnecessary death'.

'Trooper Hollingsworth's family has the finality of knowing exactly how he died as their community mourns his loss,' said Lee Merritt, a prominent civil rights attorney representing the family. 

'The family of Ronald Greene, however, is still being denied the same finality by the State of Louisiana.'


Police are investigating Hollingsworth's crash. He was off duty and in his personal vehicle

Police are investigating Hollingsworth's crash. He was off duty and in his personal vehicle

While Greene's death was ruled accidental, Merritt claimed 'the physical evidence we've been able to review is inconsistent with the manner of death that they've described'.  

Greene's family filed a federal wrongful-death lawsuit in May alleging troopers 'brutalized' Greene, used a stun gun on him three times and 'left him beaten, bloodied and in cardiac arrest' before covering up his actual cause of death.

The controversy deepened last week when Greene's family released graphic photographs showing deep bruises and cuts to his face, and other photos showing his car with little damage. 

That raised questions about whether Greene received those injuries in a car crash - as authorities initially told his family - or when troopers arrested him.

The pictures were widely shared after being posted on Facebook by the president of the N.A.A.C.P.'s Baton Rouge branch 

The family of Ronald Greene, pictured, is fighting to have the body-cam footage of his death

The family of Ronald Greene, pictured, is fighting to have the body-cam footage of his death 

State Police have said only that the 49-year-old Greene died 'after resisting arrest and a struggle with troopers' who took him into custody.

The single-page report says that the chase ended when he crashed his vehicle. 

'Greene was taken into custody after resisting arrest and a struggle with Troopers,' the report says, adding that he 'became unresponsive' and died on the way to a local hospital. 

The report doesn't describe any use of force by troopers. 

'Obviously the body cam footage is critical,' said Mark Maguire, an attorney also representing Greene's family. 

The agency opened an internal investigation into the case last month and placed Hollingsworth on paid leave September 9. 

No disciplinary action has been announced against the other five troopers involved.

Two law enforcement officials told Associated Press that State Police are investigating whether one of the responding troopers improperly turned off his body camera during Greene's arrest.

Edwards said Tuesday he was 'not comfortable in saying that I'm happy' with the amount of time - more than 15 months - that passed between Greene's death and the opening of the State Police internal investigation. 

He added, however, that 'there are reasons for that, and there's an approach that has been taken for as long as anybody can remember when you have criminal investigations that are ongoing'.

'Whether that continues to be the most appropriate approach to that, I'm not sure,' he said. 

'We're going to be taking a look into that and whether some changes are necessary.'

Greene's death is also the subject of a civil rights investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department.  

Family members of Ronald Greene listen to speakers as they gather at the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington on August 28. Greene died in police custody following a high-speed chase in Louisiana in 2019 but his family question the authorities version of events

Family members of Ronald Greene listen to speakers as they gather at the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington on August 28. Greene died in police custody following a high-speed chase in Louisiana in 2019 but his family question the authorities version of events

State Police claim that the 49-year-old Greene died 'after resisting arrest and a struggle with troopers' who took him into custody in May 2019
They have not released body-cam footage of Greene's arrest

State Police claim that the 49-year-old Greene died 'after resisting arrest and a struggle with troopers' who took him into custody in May 2019. They have not released body-cam footage

Capt. Cammon confirmed that the said the agency is 'cooperating with federal officials'. 

It is unclear if Hollingsworth's termination was prompted by the federal investigation.  

Greene's mother Mona Hardin described him as a well-liked barber who had a 'giving spirit'.

She says the family has been unable to properly grieve without knowing the full details around his death. 

'This has gutted our family,' Hardin she said. 'How do people live with themselves after doing something like this?' 

The American Civil Liberties Union last week blasted the death as an 'apparent cover-up by the Louisiana State Police'. 

'We are deeply alarmed by what appears to be an 17-month-long cover-up by the Louisiana State Police and an intentional effort to deceive Ronald Greene's family about the circumstances of his death,' said Alanah Odoms Hebert, ACLU of Louisiana executive director. 

'Once again, a Black man's family is grieving because of the actions of police officers who have never been held accountable. The fact that Ronald Greene's family is still waiting for answers more than a year after his death is a tragic and unacceptable miscarriage of justice that needs to be addressed now. 

'This is especially concerning given that LSP is often charged with investigating allegations of excessive force and misconduct by local police departments. LSP must immediately release all body camera footage of the incident as well as the names of the officers involved,' she added. 

The investigation into Green's death comes amid heightened racial tensions among the Louisiana State Police, which has been accused of several misconduct cases in recent years.  

Earlier in September, Gov. Edwards said it was 'unacceptable' that State Police failed to discipline a trooper recorded using a racial slur against another officer on duty in 2017. 

It also comes following months of protest and unrest following the death of 26-year-old black woman Breonna Taylor in a no-knock warrant in Kentucky in March and the death of 46-year-old George Floyd during arrest in Minneapolis on May 25. 

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