The head of the Louisiana State Police will retire this week after more than three years in charge, stepping down after a series of recent controversies including the death of a Black man in State Police custody that is now the subject of a federal civil rights investigation.
Col. Kevin Reeves took over from former superintendent Mike Edmonson, who resigned amid fallout from a number of scandals. Reeves' last day will be Saturday, Gov. John Bel Edwards' office said. A new leader will be named “in the coming days.”
“I am deeply grateful to Col. Reeves for his decades of dedicated service as the consummate law enforcement professional committed to serving and protecting the people of Louisiana. Public safety has always been his highest priority,” Gov. Edwards said in a statement.
Reeves was named in 2017 as the interim head of the Louisiana State Police after Edmonson’s departure. Later that year, Edwards removed the interim tag, tapping Reeves as the 26th superintendent of an agency where he worked for 30 years. He oversees thousands of troopers and employees at several Department of Public Safety agencies.
“It has truly been an honor to serve as Superintendent of the Louisiana State Police and Deputy Secretary of the Department of Public Safety,” Reeves said. “I am forever grateful to Governor Edwards for having the faith and confidence in me and, more importantly, for the support he provides the men and women of the Louisiana State Police.”
The agency has faced criticism in recent weeks and months over a range of incidents, from trooper misconduct to an in-custody death that has gained national attention. The governor's office said Reeves had been planning his retirement since last year.
Asked Tuesday at a press conference if either the governor or his office told Reeves it would be a good time to retire, Edwards said no one had.
“I didn’t lose any confidence in Col. Reeves,” Edwards said.
The governor said Reeves told him last year before the gubernatorial election that he planned to retire near the end of the first year of Edwards' second term — 2020.
Reeves started working for Louisiana State Police as a trooper on motorcycle patrols in Baton Rouge in 1990. He later worked in Monroe as a squad leader for the mobile field force and as a case agent and undercover agent on narcotics investigations and operations for the Bureau of Investigations.
He was described as a "safe pick" to head the agency in 2017 after longtime superintendent Edmonson stepped down amid investigations into questionable overtime charges and out-of-state travel by high-ranking troopers.
Reeves said at the time he saw himself as "probably a lower-profile person" than Edmonson and noted he would have to adjust to interacting with the media and the public in his new role.
He quickly set about imposing discipline on troopers involved in the high-profile scandal that had occurred prior to his arrival. In the following months he also suspended a statewide highway traffic enforcement program and launched a criminal investigation into three other troopers accused of claiming extra-duty hours they did not work. He earned praise for his swift action, with many approving of his new reign at the agency to squash corruption.
While Reeves sought to neutralize controversies from the Edmonson era in the early months of his tenure, he also encountered criticism for failing to diversify upper-level management positions in his first year as head. Critics acknowledged that bringing more women and minorities into the agency had been a decades-long struggle, but argued that community policing could not be effective if the law enforcement body did not reflect the people they served.
The intervening years were comparatively quiet for the agency. One trooper in Thibodaux was suspended for using law enforcement databases to track his ex-girlfriend; another in New Orleans was accused of raping a 16-year-old girl. Reeves addressed both incidents, providing statements or quickly imposing discipline.
Notably, a Baton Rouge trooper was placed on administrative leave in 2018 after she fired her service weapon at a teen fleeing a traffic stop, injuring him in the back, but the outcome of the case remained pending for months.
Other incidents that happened in this period wouldn't surface until 2020.
By the end of 2019, allegations of systemic breakdown emerged, beginning at the agency's training academy. Three troopers were transferred after superiors concluded an exercise went beyond "normal parameters" and caused significant injuries to several cadets involved. Months later, one trooper was demoted when the internal investigation closed.
Until the recent protests against police brutality began, the agency remained largely unscathed in the beginning of 2020. However, after the death of Trayford Pellerin, a Black man killed by Lafayette police in August, activists started to call for for more transparency into the state police investigation of his death.
State police investigate all incidents where officers shoot civilians in the line of duty. That role has received more scrutiny since national protests against police brutality began, particularly for cases in which White officers have injured or killed Black men.
In September a letter emerged revealing a trooper had used a racial slur against a colleague several years prior and failed to be appropriately disciplined, prompting an apology from Reeves on behalf of his agency.
And, shortly after that, toward the end of the month, the story of Ronald Greene came to light.
Greene was a Black man who died in state police custody in early 2019. Reports of the murky circumstances surrounding his death sparked protests, demands for accountability and the release of body cam footage from the night of his death.
State Police initially blamed Greene’s May 2019 death near Monroe on a car crash at the end of a high-speed chase. But an attorney for Greene’s family members told The Associated Press that body camera video of Greene’s encounter with State Police shows troopers choking and beating the man and dragging him face-down across pavement. The State Police and Edwards have refused to publicly release the footage, citing ongoing investigations.
In a 27-second audio clip of body-camera footage obtained by the AP from one of the responding officers, Master Trooper Chris Hollingsworth can be heard telling a colleague, “I beat the ever-living f*** out of him.” Graphic pictures of Greene’s body released by his family show deep bruises to his face and cuts on his head.
The State Police waited more than a year to discipline Hollingsworth, who died in a single-car crash last month just hours after learning he had been fired over his role in the incident. No other troopers who were on the scene of Greene’s death have been publicly reprimanded.
In early October, the trooper from the 2018 shooting during a traffic stop was indicted and arrested after her case went to a grand jury for a decision. The next day, it was revealed that Reeves' son, Trooper Kaleb Reeves, rear-ended another vehicle while on-duty in Monroe. The crash killed a child and teen in the back seat.
Kevin Reeves promised when his son joined the agency in 2017 that he would not receive special treatment, and said any decisions about disciplinary action, transfers and promotions would be run through his chief of staff.
Activists who have held protests outside State Police Headquarters held another one Tuesday evening after the announcement of Reeves' retirement. They said his departure didn't change anything.
“Because Col. Reeves resigned, that does not resolve the issues,” said Jamal Taylor with The Village 337, a Lafayette activist group. “The tapes (of Greene’s death) need to be released, and a federal investigation needs to be done because of the coverup of the death of Ronald Greene.”
Advocate staff writers Will Sentell and Ellyn Couvillion, plus The Associated Press, contributed to this report.