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.

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