Anatomy of a 'cover up': Coroners’ records missing on unarmed Louisiana Black man's death

Questioning coroners and a paramedic, Louisiana lawmakers on the special committee investigating the Ronald Greene case learned some new details about the 49-year-old’s death in Louisiana State Police custody. But critical testimony fell short as the coroners deferred questions to others not in attendance and said official records in the case are missing.
Answering questions committee member Rep. Tony Bacala posed, paramedic Cindy Ott said Greene had no signs of life when the ambulance arrived on the scene to transport him to Glenwood Regional Medical Center in West Monroe, casting doubt on the State Police narrative that Greene was still alive and died on his way to the hospital.

“He was apneic, and I could not find a pulse,” Ott said, using the medical term for not breathing.

Ott confirmed Greene’s fractured breastbone and ruptured aorta are “indicative of CPR.” The FBI reached the same conclusion in its addendum to the original autopsy report that blamed those injuries on Green crashing his car into a tree at the end of a state police pursuit. Ott said it’s not unusual for chest compressions to cause those injuries and others, such as a lacerated liver or punctured lung.

Ott said Greene had stun gun probes still in his body, head lacerations, blood covering his face and head and tree bark in his hairline.

“We removed Taser probes from the left chest wall, left wrist, as well as the left lower back,” Ott said.

The radio call that dispatched emergency medical services described the incident as a traffic accident, Ott said.

The Associated Press later revealed state troopers omitted from their incident report how they used stun guns and beat, choked, dragged and restrained Greene face down for nine minutes before he stopped breathing, all of which was captured on police body-camera video that they refused to release to the public for nearly two years.

Ott said state troopers refused to remove Greene’s handcuffs to allow medics to perform CPR to try to revive Greene and instead handcuffed him to the gurney. CPR efforts eventually stopped at the hospital, Ott said.

Coroner’s officials from Union and Ouachita parishes also testified before the committee Thursday. Angie Hollis, an investigator with the Ouachita Parish Coroner’s Office, was the first to respond to the hospital. Hollis said she then transferred the case to Union Parish because the incident occurred there, but she could not recall whether she wrote a report to document the transfer.

The Union Parish coroner at the time was Abbie Moon, who left office the following year and did not attend Thursday’s hearing. Moon was arrested in March on 21 counts of obtaining narcotics by fraud, according to a report in the Ruston Daily Leader.

Critical testimony could be out of reach for Ronald Greene committee

Renee Smith, the current Union Parish coroner, attended Thursday’s hearing and had little information to give lawmakers other than the records left with the office when she took over.

Reading from the autopsy report, Smith said Greene’s cause of death was cocaine-induced agitated delirium complicated by the car wreck, head injuries, physical struggle and restraint. Smith, like Moon, is neither a pathologist nor a physician, the only two medical professionals allowed to perform autopsies in Louisiana. Greene’s autopsy was outsourced to pathologists in Little Rock, Arkansas: Drs. Frank Peretti and Jennifer Forsyth.

“Agitated delirium,” also known as “excited delirium,” is generally defined as being in a highly agitated or combative state. It is a controversial diagnosis the American Medical Association and most other national and international medical organizations have rejected because it has no clear diagnostic criteria and is a “sole justification for law enforcement use of excessive force.”

Smith also claimed to have no knowledge that the FBI performed a review of the initial autopsy that excluded agitated delirium and the car wreck as causes of death. The information has circulated widely in local and national news since November.

Rep. Mandie Landry asked Ouachita Parish Coroner Dr. Teri O’Neal how common it is to attribute a death to agitated delirium. O’Neal acknowledged it is a controversial term she has used several times in reports, usually when quoting the pathologist who performed an autopsy.

O’Neal, who said she has not watched any of the body-camera videos of troopers beating Greene, described the symptoms of agitated delirium as rapid heart rate, sweating, muscle tension, combativeness, altered mental state and altered awareness. Lawmakers tried to determine who witnessed Greene’s condition and shared those symptoms with the pathologist. None of the officials from the coroners’ offices had answers.

O’Neal said it was “highly unusual” that her office had no reports, notes or any other records of Greene’s death. The only record that the former Union Parish coroner wrote contained a basic description of a traffic accident with no mention of symptoms that would indicate agitated delirium or a violent struggle, according to a copy read aloud during the committee meeting.

“So much around this case we are finding a pattern of something being uncommon, something being unusual … There are so many things that are just out of practice with this case that I just find it disturbing,” committee member Rep. Edmond Jordan said.

O’Neal said she plans to request an audit from an outside agency to see if any reports might have been created and subsequently lost or deleted.

After reviewing a copy of the pathology report, a passage was read aloud to the committee that indicated the pathologist had received information verbally from state troopers, but there was no communication or written records from paramedics on the scene.

Jordan also pointed out state law prohibits coroners from issuing a cremation permit when suspicious circumstances surround a death. Under questioning, the coroners said they would have not issued a cremation permit for Greene’s body, which Moon, the former Union Parish coroner, did.

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jarvis DeBerry for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

Disabled people face GOP pushback in bid to study voting access

A proposal to study the voting rights of disabled people to see if improved wheelchair access and other accommodations might be needed encountered heavy pushback from several Louisiana House Republicans on Tuesday. The proposal ultimately advanced from the House and Governmental Affairs Committee after GOP lawmakers removed language that specified “curbside voting” for disabled people as one of the topics that would be studied.

House Concurrent Resolution 14, sponsored by Rep. Matthew Willard, D-New Orleans, does not propose any new laws or any changes to existing laws. It is what legislators refer to as a study resolution, a way of gaining nonpartisan recommendations on any particular issue by assembling a subcommittee or task force typically comprised of a combination of public and private sector experts, government officials and residents or members of the community most affected by the issue.

Louisiana Lawmakers support police study – as long as it doesn’t talk about George Floyd

It is a process that often requires task force members to meet multiple times and gather data over a period of several months. Their recommendations have no legal weight and, if accepted, still need to be included in legislation that lawmakers would debate and vote on. For these reasons, study resolutions are common during a legislative session and often do not encounter the level of opposition one might see with a regular bill, though some have in the past.

Willard’s resolution would assemble a task force to study the voting rights of disabled people, including the amenities and procedures currently available in Louisiana and any impediments that might exist to voting.

The 11-member task force would have at least four representatives from the disabilities community and be chaired by the Louisiana Secretary of State with a Feb. 1, 2023, deadline to complete its work and submit a report of its findings to the House and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Willard said he introduced the legislation after some of his disabled constituents told him that they still face many different challenges with voting. He thought the best way to do that would be to give the disabled communities a “seat at the table” and allow them to directly shape the legislation.

Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, questioning the need for the resolution, said polling places in her area are accessible to disabled people and pointed out that she has a family member “very near and dear” to her who is disabled.

“What we already do now, to me, seems to be most efficient,” Horton said. “And if someone goes to a polling place that’s not, all they have to do is call their clerk of court, and I assure you that accommodations will be made.”

Responding to Horton’s comments, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin pointed out that a system of voting that makes disabled people rely on personal assistance does not offer the anonymity that is constitutionally guaranteed and afforded to everyone else through the secret ballot. He said anonymity and independence were some of the main concerns disabled people voiced at recent Voting System Commission meetings.

“They would like as many options as possible to be able to vote independently and not have to have assistance at the polling places,” Ardoin, a Republican, said. “To my understanding, I think that is why they’re asking us to do this study.”

Rep. Polly Thomas, R-Metairie, asked Willard for specific locations of polling places that are not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or where disabled people were denied the right to vote. Willard said the whole point of the legislation is to answer those questions.

Ardoin said his office has received complaints about disability access at a particular polling location in New Orleans. He said he is working with local officials to improve those accommodations.

Wheelchair ramps serve only a fraction of the disabled population. In addition to mobility disabilities, other conditions that can severely impede one’s ability to vote include vision loss, hearing loss, chronic illnesses, cognitive impairments, neurological disorders and conditions impairing one’s ability for self-care and independent living.

According to the 2021 Disability Statistics Compendium, which compiles data from several federal sources, the Census Bureau estimates Louisiana has more than 700,000 residents with a disability that causes serious impairment and, out of all states, has the highest percentage (23%) of individuals with a vision disability — meaning they are blind or have serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses. Those numbers do not include people in institutions such as jails and nursing homes.

The Centers for Disease Control puts Louisiana’s disabled population higher, at about 1.1 million.

Approximately 270,000 disabled people in Louisiana voted in the 2020 election and an estimated 643,000 are currently eligible to vote, according to Rutgers University’s Program on Disability Research.

Thomas said she is a special educator and feels the current system’s medical allowance for an absentee mail-in ballot is “not burdensome” and is “quite easy and fast” for disabled people. “And you’re telling me differently?” she asked.

Willard said he would never presume to know what it actually is like for any disabled person and is proposing the resolution so that lawmakers can hear directly from those with disabilities.

Thomas repeated what Horton said earlier, recommending that Willard’s constituents call an election official if they have difficulties on voting day.

Also questioning the need for the study, Rep. Beau Beaullieu, R-New Iberia, expressed concern that the task force could recommend curbside voting or ballot drop-boxes and said the study “could be opening it up to more than just an ADA issue.”

“When you use the term disability, now all of a sudden we’re going to have somebody who’s, I don’t know, got some mild depression that’s fallen into this category,” Beaullieu said. “Can it open up to other things is more what I worry about when you start going down this task force deal.”

Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, said he didn’t expect a study resolution to draw so much debate and told his colleagues they should want to make informed decisions.

“I just think as a general policy matter we should never be opposed to the idea of studying something to be more informed about any subject matter even if we’re afraid of what the study might reveal — period,” Duplessis said.

He said that when the subject of disabilities comes up, people who are not disabled often mention that they have a friend or family member who is disabled and tend to believe such a connection makes them especially empathetic to the wider disabled community.

“We may say we care about people who have disabilities, etcetera, but the reality is that many times we don’t understand or know the full extent of what a disability truly even is,” Duplessis said. “So sometimes we are all at fault for assuming that a disability is just someone who is limited to a wheelchair or a disability is someone who is just blind.”

With partisan lines taking shape among the committee members, Ardoin said the source of all the “angst” was a clause in the resolution that explicitly identified curbside voting as one of the possible solutions that should be studied. Thus, with Willard’s permission, chairman Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, introduced an amendment that removed that clause, leaving the resolution silent as to which solutions the task force should study.

Stefanski’s motion quelled the debate, allowing HCR 14 to advance without objection. It will next head to the House floor.

A concurrent resolution does not require the governor’s approval.


Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jarvis DeBerry for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

Anti-abortion group opposes giving adopted people access to birth certificates

A committee of Louisiana lawmakers will take another week to decide whether to advance a bill that would allow adopted people to obtain copies of their original birth certificates once they reach age 24.

State law currently provides adopted individuals only limited access to the information from their birth records, mostly connected to vital health data. The author of the bill, Rep. Charles Owen, R-Rosepine, voluntarily deferred the legislation Tuesday after a morning of emotional testimony in the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure from adoptees and adoptive parents in support of the bill and an anti-abortion group that opposes it.

Owen, who was adopted as a baby, told the Illuminator he was 35 when his biological mother located and contacted him for the first time. Despite this, he said he still is unable to obtain his birth certificate from the state.

Tuesday’s committee hearing prompted a variety of difficult questions regarding the equal protection of citizens under the law, whether the right to privacy means the right to anonymity, and to whom do birth certificates belong.

House Bill 450 proposes that a person who was adopted as a child would no longer have to petition a court to unseal their original birth certificate. Instead, they could obtain an uncertified copy upon request from the state registrar of vital records.

One’s ability to access their own vital records might seem like a fundamental right of every American citizen, but that’s not the case in Louisiana, adoptive mother Tyler Koch said.

In a closed adoption under Louisiana law, nearly all records, including the original birth certificate that often contains the identities of the biological parents, are sealed and not accessible to the adoptee. The state issues an altered birth certificate with the legal fiction that the child was born to its adoptive parents. The original can only be unsealed with a court order after the adoptee proves a compelling reason to make the records available.

In line with most research on the topic, several who testified at the meeting said the antiquated laws that sealed the birth certificates were written primarily because of the social stigma once attached to adoption.

“Chuck [Owen] and I used to be branded as ‘illegitimate,’” said LeRoy Lambert, a lawyer and former adoptee who spoke in support of the bill. “Any purported need for confidentiality makes a host of assumptions about the way things work.”

Lambert pointed out that access to consumer DNA testing is inexpensive and widespread through websites such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe.com. It allows nearly anyone to trace a person’s genealogy and track down their biological family members even if those family members do not use the websites. Law enforcement authorities have used consumer genealogy websites to track down criminals whose identities were unknown for decades, such as the Golden State Killer.

Lambert said the process of a closed adoption is a contract between the birth mother and the state. The privacy afforded by the contract might benefit both parties at the time, but it should not be allowed to infringe upon the rights of the adoptee once they become an adult, he said.

Were promises made?

Speaking against the legislation, anti-abortion advocate Ben Clapper with Louisiana Right to Life said a birth mother’s right to privacy in an adoption is essential to keeping adoption a welcome alternative to abortion.

Clapper said no birth parents could come to speak against the bill because “their story is a confidential story.” When asked by lawmakers, Clapper said there is no research or data to suggest that the disclosure of birth records has any effect on adoption rates.

In 1977, the Louisiana Legislature approved a law that recognizes a birth mother’s right to privacy in an adoption. Clapper said the state should not go back on the promise it has been giving to birth mothers for 45 years.

Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, pointed out that the four people who testified in support of the bill were all born prior to 1977 yet are still being denied their birth certificates even though the privacy law was not in effect when they were adopted.

“So if that confidentiality was not in the law at the time, we’re not breaking any deal or contract or agreement that was entered into at that time,” Seabaugh said.

In a post-meeting interview, adoptee Kenny Tucker of Arabi said it’s somewhat misleading to claim that birth mothers were promised that they would never be identified, and it would be irresponsible if any adoption agencies actually made such promises, he said.

In a closed adoption, the birth parents have little to no contact with or knowledge of the adoptive parents. Birth parents sign away all rights to the child, and the child is then placed with a prospective family through either an adoption agency, a private attorney or the foster care system.

The adoption is finalized only after the child has been living in the adoptive parents’ home for some time and after various state requirements, such as post-placement home visits, have been satisfied. It is only at that point, when the adoption is finalized, that an amended birth certificate is issued, Tucker said.

However, when birth parents relinquish their rights to a child for an adoption, it’s not guaranteed the adoption will be finalized and thus not guaranteed the original birth certificate will be sealed and replaced with an amended one, Tucker said. In those cases when a child remains a ward of the state until they are an adult, they receive the only birth certificate they have — the original one. He said opponents of the bill sometimes don’t understand this and often confuse privacy with anonymity.

“A right to privacy is not the same as a right to anonymity,” Tucker said, adding that an adoptee’s access to a birth certificate does not diminish the birth mother’s privacy. The birth certificate and adoption records would still be sealed to the general public, and all parties can still choose whether to live privately without contact among one another, he said.

Seeking compromise

During his opening presentation of the bill Tuesday, Owen said he would work with all sides in an effort to reach some level of agreement on the legislation.

The anti-abortion group proposed an amendment that would require the birth mother to submit an affidavit agreeing to the disclosure of the birth certificate unless the birth mother is deceased, in which case the record would be released. But Tucker said a person’s ability to access their own vital records should be the default.

“To whom does a birth certificate belong?” Tucker said.

In a conversation with Owen after the meeting, Tucker proposed the idea of allowing birth parents to select a “do not contact” option whenever an adoptee requests their original birth certificate. This would allow birth parents to maintain their privacy while also giving adoptees the birth certificate and the true life history they have always longed for, Tucker said.

Many states have some variation of laws that allow an adoptee to obtain their original birth certificate either immediately upon request or if the birth mother has not objected to the disclosure via an affidavit. According to the U.S. Children’s Bureau, those states are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and the Virgin Islands.

The committee is expected to reconsider the bill when it meets again next Tuesday.


Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jarvis DeBerry for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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Court rules against unvaccinated students at Louisiana medical school

Three students who sued a Monroe medical school over its coronavirus vaccine mandate lost their motion to hold the college in contempt. The ruling, issued Friday, means a settlement from October will remain in place.

Rachel Lynn Magliulo, Matthew Shea Willis and Kirsten Willis Hall initially sued the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) in Monroe in August because they did not want to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in accordance with the medical school’s policy. They alleged VCOM discriminated against them, took other actions that humiliated them in front of their classmates and restricted them from attending certain classes.

VCOM is a private college that leases space on the campus of the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

In October, the students reached a non-monetary settlement with VCOM but asked to reopen the case less than a month later, claiming the school instituted new practices they considered discriminatory such as requiring unvaccinated people to wear face masks indoors.

The medical school had updated its COVID-19 protocols, which differed between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals but followed the guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty on Friday denied the students’ motion for contempt and their motion to enforce the consent judgment, ruling that VCOM’s updated policies don’t restrict the students from doing the same things that vaccinated students can do.

Doughty wrote that the updated restrictions still allow the students to be unvaccinated, attend classes and complete their academic work. He also pointed out that the consent decree provided that the plaintiffs would be subject to “reasonable safety measures” as promulgated by the CDC for unvaccinated people and institutions of higher education.

Osteopathy is a field of medicine that emphasizes a whole-person approach to treatment and tends to focus more on physical therapies for the body than drugs or invasive treatments. Graduates from an osteopathic medical school receive a D.O. degree rather than the traditional M.D. carried by most physicians but can still prescribe medicines and perform surgeries.


Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jarvis DeBerry for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

An expert on police use of force is calling this incident one of the 'most abusive and unnecessary' he has ever seen

One of the nation’s leading experts in police procedure told the Hammond City Council on Tuesday that video of white police officers subduing a handcuffed Black man inside the department’s booking room is “one of the most abusive uses of force” he has ever investigated.

Council members have renewed talk of calling on Hammond’s mayor to fire Police Chief Edwin Bergeron, who was a sergeant at the time and one of the officers in the video. The FBI was reportedly referred the incident that followed the Dec. 6, 2017, arrest of Kentdrick Ratliff for obstructing a sidewalk, but the status of that remains unclear. Officers found a bottle of pills in Ratliff’s car, which he later said was prescription medication to treat his anxiety.

The city council heard a summary of findings Tuesday from an investigation they pursued 16 months ago after the Hammond Police Department’s internal affairs department and Mayor Pete Panepinto refused to hold the officers accountable. A Baton Rouge law firm was hired to look into the case, and it brought in Seth Stoughton, an attorney and former police officer who teaches at the University of South Carolina School of Law.

A specialist in police procedure and criminal law, Stoughton has testified in state and federal courts across the country as a police use-of-force expert, most recently as a prosecution expert in the 2021 trial of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was ultimately convicted for killing George Floyd.

Stoughton attended Tuesday’s council meeting in person to present his findings, which included his conclusions on 10 uses of force against Ratliff.

While sitting handcuffed next to a desk in the booking room, Ratliff suddenly reached for the pill bottle that was left unsecured on the desk, sparking an immediate response from the two officers in the room, Bergeron and Craig Dunn.

Bergeron did not respond to the Illuminator’s attempts to reach him for comment.

Of the 10 uses of force seen in the video, Stoughton said only two were reasonable in light of the circumstances. He deemed the remaining eight “unreasonable and excessive,” with up to four “egregiously unreasonable and excessive” actions that could constitute criminal acts.

One of the worst, Stoughton said, occurred at the end of the incident when Dunn stomped Ratliff’s face five times while Ratliff was lying on his side with his hands cuffed behind him.

“This is egregiously unreasonable,” Stoughton said. “It is among the most abusive uses of force I’ve seen in reviewing I can’t even tell you how many cases.”

This same language is repeated in Stoughton’s 158-page investigative report when describing Dunn’s actions.

“Dunn’s stomping on or kicking Mr. Ratliff in the face five times while he was handcuffed and laying on his side, fully under the control of officers, ranks among the most abusive and unnecessary uses of force that I have ever reviewed.”

Uses of force detailed

Policing expert Seth Stoughton said Hammond police officers employed the following uses of force, listed in chronological order during suspect Kentdrick Ratliff’s booking in December 2017 at the police station:

  1. Then-Sgt. Edwin Bergeron and Officer Craig Dunn Nine delivered nine closed-fist punches to Ratliff’s face and body while Ratliff was handcuffed lying face-up on top of the desk, leading him to fall through the desk to the ground.
  2. Dunn kicked Ratliff in the neck.
  3. Dunn placed Ratliff in a “guillotine” choke hold after one of the handcuffs came off Ratliff’s right wrist. Such a choke hold is considered in policing as an “application of deadly force,” Stoughton said.
  4. Bergeron struck Ratliff in the torso with a knee while Dunn held Ratliff, deemed reasonable.
  5. Officer Storm Tabor shocked Ratliff in the back and leg multiple times with a stun gun, deemed reasonable.
  6. Ratliff was kept in a prone position for a prolonged period of time after being resecured in handcuffs.
  7. An officer, believed to be Dunn, knelt on Ratliff’s neck while the suspect lay prone and handcuffed.
  8. Officer Thaddeus Gautier employed a “gooseneck” wristlock, a pain compliance technique, while Ratliff was handcuffed and prone with his arms elevated behind his back.
  9. Sgt. Thomas Mushinsky kicked Ratliff in either the groin or thigh long after he was secured with handcuffs and under the control of two officers.
  10. Dunn stomped or kicked Ratliff’s face five times while he was handcuffed.

Ratliff was then taken to a hospital for medical treatment. His medical records reflected a facial laceration, missing teeth, blood on his face and a wound to his back.

Stoughton recommended the city council refer the matter to law enforcement for potential criminal prosecution of the officers. Another significant recommendation was to hire an outside firm to conduct a comprehensive review of the Hammond Police Department and its operations.

Stoughton also noted that written reports from officers involved in the Ratliff incident omitted most of their use of force actions. One officer testified that Bergeron instructed him to not file a report, even though department policy and general practice required him to do so.

An internal affairs investigation Mayor Panepinto ordered looked only into whether Sgt. Mushinsky kicked Ratliff in the groin or thigh. None of the other officers were investigated, according to documents the Illuminator obtained.

After receiving those key findings Tuesday, several council members moved to amend the meeting’s agenda to add a resolution to request the mayor fire the police chief. The motion required a unanimous vote, and council members Carlee Gonzales and Steven Leon opposed it.

“When you do something like this, you’re leaving the citizenship entirely out of the loop,” Leon said, explaining his opposition to the motion.

Council members indicated they would bring the resolution in the near future. The council approved an identical resolution in September 2020, prior to Stoughton’s investigation. Gonzales and Leon voted against it..

“Watching that video, there really shouldn’t be much more to see,” Councilman Sam DiVittorio said. “That video, it was disturbing and disgusting.”


Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jarvis DeBerry for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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Gen. Honoré plans to confront oil companies over neglecting infrastructure in Louisiana

Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré plans to attend a meeting of the Petroleum Club of Lafayette next week to demand that oil corporations — not taxpayers — pay the half-billion dollar bill that could result from having to clean up the thousands of oil spills and other incidents of pollution in Louisiana exposed by Hurricane Ida, according to a Friday press release.
Honoré, an emergency preparedness expert known for leading the recovery of Hurricane Katrina and the U.S. Capitol security review in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection, will attend the Petroleum Club meeting at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 5, at 1030 E. Saint Mary Blvd., Lafayette.

According to his press release, the general will demand the industry foot the bill that could cost up to $650 million to properly plug all 4,600 abandoned wells across the state of Louisiana. The news release said the thousands of pollution incidents since Ida's landfall have exposed vulnerable and abandoned industrial infrastructure across the state.

Industrial and petrochemical pollution incidents in Louisiana have drawn heightened scrutiny after Associated Press journalists, combing through weather satellite images, spotted oil slicks near a Gulf of Mexico rig in the days following Hurricane Ida's Aug. 29 landfall. That oil spill, which left an 11-mile long slick, came from an abandoned pipeline that authorities have yet to trace to a company responsible.

Since then, the U.S. Coast Guard has received more than 2,100 reports of spills and other contamination incidents, according to a Washington Post article.

Among those reports, the Phillips 66 Alliance refinery, located along the Mississippi River in Belle Chasse, spilled an unreported amount of oil that killed several deer and cows and covered otters, hogs and at least 100 birds, according to NOLA.com.

Louisiana's industries also affected the air after the storm. Oil refineries, such as Shell Norco, released chemical emissions at a high rate in the days before and after Ida's landfall, forming a long black cloud that stretched from Norco to near the middle of Lake Pontchartrain north of Metairie where it began to dissipate.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jarvis DeBerry for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

Louisiana governor downplays State Police cover-up allegations in Ronald Greene case

In a radio interview Wednesday, Gov. John Bel Edwards downplayed reports that Louisiana State Police troopers engaged in an attempted cover-up of the 2019 death of Ronald Greene, saying many of the cover-up allegations are “overblown or just false."
“Sometimes the media is incomplete in the way it portrays things, and tends toward the sensational," Edwards said. “That is not to say that everything that has happened has been exactly right because it hasn't."

“I think there was excess brutality shown to Mr. Greene. There is just no reason for that," the governor said. “But the cover-up part of it, much of that is overblown or just false."

The governor was asked about the Greene case during his monthly call-in radio show, in which he answers questions from the public. Greene died in State Police custody following a car chase with troopers outside of Monroe.

Troopers said for over a year that the 49-year-old Black man died from injuries suffered in a car wreck, but the Associated Press split the case open when they obtained and published body-camera footage showing troopers beating, choking, and using a stun gun on Greene. The body camera footage also shows the troopers, who are White, spraying him in the face with pepper spray and dragging him by his leg shackles face down over pavement.

Since breaking that news, the AP has revealed other aspects of the case that call into question the State Police's handling of the case. In May the AP reported that the ranking trooper on the scene, Lt. John Clary, falsely told internal investigators that Greene was still a threat to flee after he was shackled, and Clary denied the existence of his own body camera video for nearly two years until it emerged last April.

In an internal affairs document obtained by the AP, a detective wrote that Clary's 30-minute-long body-camera footage does not show Greene resisting, trying to flee or even raising his voice. or trying to get away. It shows Greene “lying on the ground, face down, handcuffed behind his back, leg shackles on his ankles, uttering the phrases, 'I'm sorry', or 'I'm scared' or 'Yes sir' or 'Okay."

In his radio interview, Edwards described the way Greene was treated by officers as “really criminal," but pushed back repeatedly on notions that state troopers might have engaged in a widespread coverup of the incident.

“Part of the things that are being called a coverup really are not," Edwards said. “For example, the district attorney and the U.S. Department of Justice asked that the videos in the Ronald Greene matter not be shown to the public. It would compromise the investigation that they're doing and potentially adversely impact a decision whether to prosecute. So if you have that from the DA and the U.S. DOJ, then you don't go out and show the video to the public. But by not showing the video to the public you get accused that you're trying to cover it up."

Earlier this year, Edwards allowed Greene's family and members of the Legislative Black Caucus to view some of the footage privately. Since then many of the videos the state has released came only after the AP obtained and published them.

Edwards said the investigation is still working to determine Greene's cause of death. The statements made by troopers that Greene died from injuries suffered in a car wreck have yet to be proven false, he said.

“The issue would be did he die from injuries sustained in the accident?" Edwards said. “Obviously he didn't die in the accident itself because he was still alive when the troopers were engaging with him. But what was the cause of death? I don't know that that was falsely portrayed."

Federal authorities have taken the unusual step of ordering a new autopsy of Greene, but the original autopsy of his body was inconclusive about whether his most severe injuries were caused by a car crash or being repeatedly hit by the troopers, according to the Associated Press.

Since the news reports of the case broke in 2019, the FBI has launched a civil rights investigation and the U.S. Justice Department is looking into whether State Police leaders obstructed justice.

In an interview with the Illuminator, Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Louisiana police watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission, said the governor is not privy to the details of those inquiries.

“The information that he is getting is probably coming from the State Police, which is the subject of the investigation," Goyeneche said. “My advice to the public is to take what the governor is saying with a few grains of salt."

State Rep. Ted James (D-Baton Rouge), who serves as chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus — a close ally of Edwards — said he was disappointed to hear the governor downplayed a cover-up in the case.

“It's clear everywhere else across the state that the State Police did everything to try to conceal and hide the truth," James said.

James said the cover-up allegations didn't just arise when the agency withheld videos from the public. Troopers told Greene's family that he died on impact in the wreck, concealed body-camera footage and lied to internal affairs investigators, he said.

In an attempt to regain public trust in the agency, State Police Superintendent Col. Lamar Davis held a press conference last week to highlight some police reforms.

But James said he has zero confidence in the agency.

“I'm very disappointed that the governor doesn't see this as a cover-up," James said. “Ray Charles could have seen this is a cover-up. It's glaring."

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jarvis DeBerry for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

Anti-vaccine students complain that they feel belittled by Louisiana medical school

The three students who are suing a north Louisiana medical school over its COVID-19 vaccination policy filed a new motion Monday alleging a college administrator belittled them in an email last week in an attempt to “turn the student body against them."

This article was originally published at the Louisiana Illuminator

The students, Rachel Lynn Magliulo, Matthew Shea Willis and Kirsten Willis Hall, filed a motion for contempt against the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) — a private college that leases land on the campus of the University of Louisiana-Monroe.

The motion for contempt comes less than a week after Judge Terry A. Doughty of the U.S. District Court in Monroe granted a temporary restraining order that prohibited the medical school from mandating the students receive a coronavirus vaccination as a condition of enrollment or partaking in certain training.

The students say VCOM Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Nathan Kinnard sent a “passive aggressive" email to the entire college that called Louisiana's school vaccination laws “antiquated" and belittled the three unvaccinated students, though the email did not refer to the students by name.

According to the email, Kinnard began by writing that he wanted to dispel rumors that have been circulating about the ongoing litigation. He wrote that Louisiana's low vaccination rate has rendered some clinical training courses unsafe.

“Unfortunately, we are facing a dilemma: Louisiana has one of the highest numbers of new cases of Covid-19 and one of the lowest vaccination rates, the situation does not provide for a safe clinical experience for students who are not vaccinated or for patients," Kinnard wrote. “We would simply not be able to protect the potential patients or any unvaccinated students and so we were forced to cancel these."

Michael L. DuBos, who is representing the students, argues in the motion that Kinnard's email blamed the three unvaccinated students for the college being forced to cancel two blocks of clinical training.

Kinnard also referred directly to the lawsuit in his email, writing that the medical school — which has a main campus in Virginia and just opened its satellite college in Monroe last year — was initially unaware Louisiana had “such an antiquated law" on student vaccinations. Kinnard said Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry's office and Liberty Counsel, the law firm representing the students, did not contact VCOM before filing the lawsuit or sending any letters.

“There are those who wish to make this a political issue rather than a public health issue it is," Kinnard wrote.

Kinnard also discouraged any “unprofessional conduct" toward the unvaccinated students, writing that such conduct is against school policy.

VCOM administrators issued a statement to the Illuminator on Tuesday that read, in part: “VCOM is more concerned that the continued court filings, all of which identify these students by name and are then provided to the media by their legal counsel, continuously separate these students from their classmates."

VCOM said student officers had asked Kinnard to write the email to dispel rumors and ensure that any retaliation against the unvaccinated students would not be tolerated.

“The reason the early clinical experiences were cancelled was to ensure that elderly patients would not be exposed to potential carriers of the virus," the VCOM statement read. “As research shows that even vaccinated individuals have the potential to be carriers of the virus, nothing in the email was retaliatory."

The medical school also said the “antiquated law" comment was made in reference to a statute that had been in effect for some time but had no case law associated with it and that the term was not a creation of Kinnard's.

VCOM had granted the students exemptions to its vaccine mandate on Aug. 6, just days after the students filed their initial lawsuit Aug. 4.

In last week's ruling, Doughty wrote that VCOM placed “excessive" restrictions on the three unvaccinated students that included requiring them to disclose their unvaccinated status to classmates with whom they came into close contact and restricting them from participating in clinical training that is required in order to graduate.

In a phone call Tuesday, DuBos said Kinnard's email was completely unnecessary," but he did not want to comment further.

VCOM's full response to the Illuminator:

VCOM has not and will not retaliate against the VCOM students. The allegations raised in this most recent filing lack merit. VCOM granted the student waivers to the vaccine on 8/6/2021.

The Associate Dean for Student Affairs frequently emails the student body on matters of concern related to the student body. He was asked by student officers to dispel rumors and to ensure all students were aware that any type of retaliation against the students would not be tolerated. The email clearly addressed this. In addition, the email addressed other questions the Associate Dean had been asked to address, including why international rotations were cancelled and why the early clinical experiences had been canceled. The reason international experiences were cancelled was the rising number of cases in the countries where these occur. The reason the early clinical experiences were cancelled was to ensure that elderly patients would not be exposed to potential carriers of the virus. As research shows that even vaccinated individuals have the potential to be carriers of the virus, nothing in the email was retaliatory.

VCOM is more concerned that the continued court filings, all of which identify these students by name and are then provided to the media by their legal counsel, continuously separate these students from their classmates.

There was no reason for this filing. In fact, to justify it, legal counsel referred to conversations alleged to have occurred in July (prior to the complaint), many of which have been mischaracterized, and none of which would apply to the order today.

The references to LSU in this memo are obviously an effort to alienate VCOM from its peer institutions. VCOM administration has met with LSU medical school administration many times and have a positive relationship. VCOM holds the LSU medical school in high regard, and the allegations are just an attempt by the students' attorneys to separate VCOM from the other medical schools within the state, all of which support vaccination.

The reference regarding the “antiquated law" was made in reference to “a law that had been in effect for some time but where no actual case could be identified where such law had been applied." The term had been used in conversation on campus and was not a creation of Mr. Kinnard.

VCOM continues to abide by the terms of the temporary restraining order.


Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jarvis DeBerry for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.