Ronald Greene with governor's text message

Ronald Greene smiles in an undated photo provided by his family. Text messages obtained by The Associated Press show Louisiana's governor was informed within hours of the deadly 2019 arrest of Ronald Greene that troopers engaged in “a violent, lengthy struggle” that ended with the Black motorist’s death. (Courtesy of the Greene family via AP)

When John Bel Edwards appears before a special legislative committee probing the death of Ronald Greene at the hands of State Police, there won’t be any need for a 21st century Howard Baker to ask what the governor knew and when he knew it.

Edwards knew on May 10, 2019, that there had been a “violent, lengthy struggle” involving State Police that resulted in the death of a man in Union Parish after a high-speed car chase. The governor was notified right away in a text message from his State Police superintendent, Kevin Reeves.

Yet State Police told Greene’s family that he perished in the crash that ended the chase, then hid the evidence and waited 474 days before launching an internal administrative probe into his death.

Since then, a series of explosive videos — initially leaked and eventually released by the agency — have ripped the lid off the cover-up.

Last week’s announcement of a sprawling federal probe of the State Police should bring an end to the agency’s longstanding cover-up culture. It should ultimately lead to better policing and greater public confidence in the agency.

But if the experience of the New Orleans Police Department is any guide, federal oversight will last for years and cost millions. And critics say that restrictions on police tactics will  discourage officers and embolden suspects.

The announcement that the probe spans all of Louisiana’s three federal judicial districts suggests that the problem of racial policing is more widespread than just the Monroe-based Troop F that attacked Greene and orchestrated the coverup.

And the muscular federal intervention is a blemish on the record of Edwards, who made a poor choice in believing that Reeves, who had previously commanded Troop F, could get to the bottom of the assault on Greene. Edwards picked Reeves for the top job in 2017 and the superintendent retired in 2020 as the cover-up began to unravel.

Greene, a 49-year-old Black man, sped away from an attempted traffic stop in Monroe. He crashed his car and two troopers, Christopher Hollingsworth and Dakota DeMoss, charged his vehicle. Greene, who was unarmed, was shocked with a stun gun and beaten repeatedly, then shackled and dragged and forced to stay prone on his belly for nine minutes before he died.

“I beat the ever-living f*** out of him,” Hollingsworth told a colleague, according to audio captured on his body camera.

The U.S. Justice Department has spent months investigating Greene’s death as a criminal matter, along with the beatings of at least three other Black motorists in 2019 and 2020 by Monroe-area troopers.

Edwards and his current State Police Superintendent, Lamar Davis, have pledged to cooperate with the new federal civil rights probe, as they should.

“We have nothing to hide and can only benefit from learning,” Davis said in a memo to the staff.

Edwards said, “it is deeply troubling that allegations of systemic misconduct exist that would warrant this type of investigation” but added that “it is absolutely necessary that all Louisianians, especially African Americans and people of color, have their faith, confidence, and trust in public safety officers restored.”

The governor made a positive move when he agreed to appear before the legislative committee and answer questions about his involvement in the Greene case. Some former State Police officials have portrayed the committee as a partisan witch hunt; that is the attitude against transparency that has got a proud agency into trouble.

The people of Louisiana deserve to learn the truth, however ugly it may turn out to be. So does the family of Greene, who spent three years fighting their own government and its big lie.