Black state lawmakers on Tuesday called on the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct a full investigation into “systemic violations of constitutional rights” within the Louisiana State Police, after troopers’ brutal beating of Ronald Greene and a subsequent coverup of the circumstances of his death came to light in recent months.

Baton Rouge State Rep. Ted James, chair of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, said the group is sending a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asking him to order the type of “pattern or practice” investigation that could end in a consent decree, where the feds mandate police reforms.

James decried a “massive and systemic coverup" at State Police, and specifically the Monroe-based Troop F, whose officers beat and tased Greene in 2019.

“I think we owe it to the people of our great state to have the federal government come in and do this full-scale top-to-bottom patterns and practices investigation to make sure what we are seeing happening at State Police is eradicated,” James said.

An attorney for Greene’s family said previously the federal government has already outlined an expansive investigation into Louisiana State Police, though the exact scope of that probe is unclear. Attorneys for Aaron Bowman, who was struck 18 times with a flashlight in a separate 2019 run-in with state troopers, said they received a similar briefing from the feds.

Greene’s death and other beatings have again put Louisiana in the middle of a national debate over police reforms, five years after Alton Sterling’s death at the hands of Baton Rouge police officers sparked intense protests.

The letter from the Black Caucus to the Department of Justice pointed to the beatings of Greene and Bowman, but called them "only the tip of the iceberg." 

Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus wrote U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asking for a federal review of "systemic violations" within the…

"The simple fact that Mr. Greene was killed in police custody was a tragedy; the attempts to cover it up and place blame on the victim are shameful," the letter said. "The Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus requests the Department of Justice to investigate the Louisiana State Police and unearth the true roots of these issues so that we may commit to our citizens some measures of safety and protection." 

The letter also asked for assistance for State Police in providing investigative oversight to local police departments in the state. State Police is often the agency that investigates use-of-force complaints at city police departments and sheriffs' offices.

The Black Caucus is a key ally of Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who appoints the top brass of Louisiana State Police. Former State Police Superintendent Kevin Reeves, an Edwards appointee who previously commanded Troop F, resigned in 2020 amid fallout from Greene’s death and other scandals. At the time, Edwards said he “didn’t lose any confidence in Col. Reeves.”

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Greene died more than two years ago following a high-speed chase in Union Parish in 2019, after which troopers repeatedly beat and tased Greene and dragged him by shackles across the ground. As officers stunned and beat the unarmed man, Greene told the troopers, “I’m your brother! I’m scared! I’m scared!” For more than a year and a half, the agency tried to pin Greene’s death on injuries sustained in a crash at the end of the chase.

After Greene’s death, Reeves and other State Police brass tried to limit liability for the embattled agency in the incident. According to an account by one of the detectives who investigated the incident, Reeves told the Union Parish district attorney the actions of the troopers who repeatedly beat and tased an unarmed Greene were “awful but lawful.”

James said the Black Caucus believes the officers involved in Greene’s death should be arrested. So far, none has been.

Edwards last fall tapped Lamar Davis as head of State Police to replace Reeves. James on Tuesday lauded Davis, who is Black, but said the pattern of misconduct at State Police is too much for one person to reform.

It’s not clear whether Edwards or Davis is seeking a federal investigation into State Police; James said both men are aware of the Black Caucus request. 

“I can't talk about whether or not the colonel supports it,” James said of Davis.

Christina Stephens, a spokesperson for the governor, said Edwards thinks the Black Caucus has "reasonable concerns that need to be addressed." She added the governor is "fully supportive" of Davis. 

"We all agree that all law enforcement officers, including Louisiana State Police troopers, should act professionally, respectfully and in accordance with their sworn duty to protect all Louisianans regardless of their race or background," Stephens said. "If officers violate this oath and the public’s trust, they should be held responsible and face the appropriate consequences for their action or inaction. For our officers, we believe this important work can be accomplished with strong leadership at the Louisiana State Police." 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana last month called on the feds to conduct an investigation into Louisiana State Police over Greene’s death and other beatings of Black people by the overwhelmingly White Troop F.

Staff writer John Simerman contributed to this story.

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