A Louisiana state trooper who died in a car wreck in September was heard on a recently released audio recording obtained by The Associated Press describing beating and choking a Black man. According to his family, police initially said the man, Ronald Greene, died from injuries sustained in a car accident after a police chase in 2019.
Ronald Greene died after struggling with law enforcement following a pursuit ended in a crash on May 10, 2019, according to a preliminary report from the criminal investigations division of the Louisiana State Patrol (LSP).
In the 27-second audio clip, the voice identifed by the AP as Trooper Chris Hollingsworth said Greene suddenly “went limp” as he was being beaten and choked by troopers. CNN has not independently confirmed the audio or its source.
Attorneys for the Greene family told CNN they heard the recording for the first time in the AP report. The news agency reported it confirmed its veracity with two law enforcement sources familiar with the case.
It is unknown who Hollingsworth was speaking to or whether the recording was edited.
“I beat the ever-living f*** out of him. Choked him and everything else trying to get him under control,” Hollingsworth said on the clip. “We finally got him in handcuffs when a third man got there. And the son of a b*tch was still fighting, they were still wrestling with him, trying to hold him down. He was spitting blood everywhere. Then all of a sudden he just went limp.”
Hollingsworth died in a single-vehicle car accident on September 21, 2020, the Ouachita Parish Coroner’s Office said in an email to CNN Monday.
Lee Merritt, one of three attorneys representing the Greene family, told CNN Hollingsworth’s fatal crash happened the same day he received a notice of termination. LSP would not confirm if the trooper had been given a notice of termination.
The agency has declined any further comment on the case, including Hollingsworth’s death, despite several requests from CNN.
Wrongful death suit filed by family
Hollingsworth was one of seven named defendants in a federal wrongful death suit filed by Greene’s daughter on May 6, 2020, which alleges Greene was “brutalized by Louisiana State Police and Union Parish Deputy Officers which caused his death.” The lawsuit alleges officers “used lethal force” against him.
The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
Merritt told CNN that Greene, who battled cancer for two years and had recently entered remission before his death, was traveling to Florida from Louisiana to reunite with his wife on the night of his death.
The lawsuit claims that following the pursuit and crash, Greene was uninjured and able to walk.
Attorneys for the Greene family told CNN officials are not releasing the autopsy report. CNN has requested a copy of the report.
The initial state police crash report does not mention troopers using force or arresting Greene. The first mention of a struggle came when the in-custody death was investigated by the Louisiana State Police Criminal Investigations Division.
The initial report from the LSP said that two troopers pursued a vehicle being driven by Greene following an attempt to pull over Greene for an unspecified traffic violation and the pursuit ended when Greene crashed his vehicle.
“Greene was taken into custody after resisting arrest and a struggle with Troopers,” the report says. “A short time later Greene became unresponsive and was transported to Glenwood Medical Center by Pafford Medical Service.”
He died on the way to the hospital, the report said.
Police told Greene’s family he had died in a car accident, with one officer telling Greene’s mother he had been immediately killed after hitting a tree, the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit said that an initial report from Glenwood Medical Center listed the principle cause of Greene’s death as cardiac arrest. He was also diagnosed with an “unspecified injury of head,” according to the lawsuit.
In the lawsuit, an emergency room physician at Glenwood Medical Center, said that the explanation of Greene’s injuries given by law enforcement didn’t “add up.”
“Upon obtaining more history from different law enforcement personnel (sic), history seems to be disjointed and does not add up. Different versions are present,” Dr. Omokhodion Omokhuale said as quoted in the lawsuit. “Family states they were told by law enforcement that patient died on impact with (tree) immediately after motor vehicle accident, but law enforcement state to me that patient for out of the car and was running and involved in a fight and struggle where them where he was tased 3 times.”
Graphic postmortem photos released on the NAACP Baton Rouge Facebook page show the injuries that Greene suffered during the incident, including large abrasions on his skull and bruising across his cheeks.
Attorney Mark Maguire, who is also representing the Greene family, confirmed the authenticity of the photos to CNN.
He also provided photos to CNN of the car involved in the accident that show no visible damage to the front of the vehicle.
State patrol not commenting on investigation
When reached for comment by CNN Thursday, LSP said that it is not releasing any documents or video associated with the investigation because they are part of the case report.
“We cannot comment further due to the ongoing administrative and criminal investigation. LSP continues to cooperate with the Union Parish District Attorney’s Office and federal officials. No further information will be released pending the conclusion of these investigations,” the reply said.
CNN has submitted several public records request for more information on the investigation.
LSP has also refused to release any video or audio of the incident to Greene’s family, according to Merritt.
Merritt and Maguire told CNN Friday that the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family has not entered the discovery phase, so they have not been able to obtain the recordings or videos either.
They believe at least one audio and one video recording of the deadly incident exists and have called on law enforcement and state officials to release the video.
“We continue to publicly request that the governor and the attorney general release the video, any information related to this to the family,” Maguire said. “There’s nothing precluding them under the law from giving the family the opportunity to view these videos and bring closure to them.”
Merritt said that federal authorities have launched an investigation into the case.
Vicki Chance, a spokeswoman with the US attorney’s office for the Western District of Louisiana, confirmed to CNN their office had opened an investigation but did not provide any further comment.
CNN also reached out to the FBI field office in Louisiana Friday evening regarding the investigation but has not yet heard back.
Governor says trooper recording is disturbing.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has “heard the recording and found it to be very disturbing,” a statement from his office to CNN said Friday.
“That sort of language reflects poorly on the trooper and the Louisiana State Police,” the statement said. “It is not the kind of language he expects a trooper to use under any circumstance.”
During a September 22 press conference, the governor said he had not seen any video of the incident but was aware of the case.
“First of all, I’m not comfortable in saying that I’m happy with the time that has elapsed. But I’m aware that there are reasons for that. And there’s an approach that has been taken for as long as anybody can remember when you have criminal investigations that are ongoing, as to the sequence of events, and whether that continues to be the most appropriate approach to that I’m not sure,” Edwards said.
“I do know that it is a matter of public record once the authorities who are conducting the investigations, which happen to be the DA and Union Parish, but also the US Department of Justice for civil rights violation,” Edwards said of the video. “If and when they conclude that their investigations are complete, or when that happens, then the videos are going to be shown.”
Family shocked by recording
The governor’s office has not responded to the family’s request for a meeting, Merritt told CNN.
When asked Friday via email if Edwards would meet with the family, no answer was provided by the governor’s office.
While the Greene family was shocked to hear the recording of the trooper talking about how their loved one died, they were also relieved, Merritt said.
“It was very hard for them,” Merritt told CNN. “They said they were both shocked and relieved because as as horrifying as something like that is. It’s a relief to see it coming out to the public.”
Clarification: A previous version of this story did not attribute details of the incident provided by Ronald Greene’s family. It has been updated to reflect that Greene’s family says they were told by police that Greene had died in a car crash. You can read the latest about the case here.