FBI Autopsy of Black Man Who Was Punched and Dragged by Cops Before 2019 Death Discredits Police Claims
A Black man whom Louisiana State Police claim suffered fatal injuries in a minor car crash instead fell victim to factors that included a lengthy police restraint and officers' blows to his head, according to an autopsy review ordered by the FBI into the 2019 death of that man, Ronald Greene.
a person posing for the camera: Family Photo Ronald Greene© Provided by People Family Photo Ronald Greene
The autopsy, described for the Associated Press by a person who was not authorized to discuss the federal investigation and who spoke on the condition of anonymity, refocuses the investigation on the troopers involved while rejecting the claim by state police that Greene's car crash led to his fatal injuries.
a person posing for the camera: Ronald Greene© Family Photo Ronald Greene
Greene, 49, was pronounced dead at a hospital after medics who responded to the scene on May 10, 2019, found him unresponsive.
His family initially was told he died in the car accident, according to The Washington Post. They have since filed a wrongful death lawsuit.
Officer-worn body camera video of the incident made public by the AP last May showed Greene apparently pleading for his life as he was taken into custody after the crash.
RELATED: Body Camera Shows Black Man Being Punched and Dragged by La. Troopers Before Death: 'I'm Scared'
The video captures Greene telling Louisiana state troopers "I'm sorry!" and "I'm scared!" as he was violently arrested after failing to stop for a traffic violation, tased with a stun gun while still in his car and then punched in the face.
Greene's family and attorneys had earlier viewed the video, as did Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, whose office said in a statement last May that he "found it to be disturbing," but that state police had agreed with requests from the U.S. attorney and the district attorney not to officially release it unless approved at "the conclusion of their investigations."
In a September radio broadcast, Edwards nonetheless returned to the car crash theory of Greene's death.
"The issue would be, did he die from injuries sustained in the accident?" he said, according to AP. "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."
John Belton, the district attorney for Louisiana's Third Judicial District, said that on the day he received a report on Greene's death from the state police, he asked the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct "an independent review of the circumstances surrounding his death, including whether any criminal or civil rights violations occurred."
His office did not comment on the newly revealed autopsy findings.
"To date, the federal investigation is ongoing," Belton said in May. "Ethically, I am prevented from making any extrajudicial comments while this matter is under investigation.
Lee Merritt, an attorney for Greene's family, said the video's release had reinforced their call for justice. "This was a malicious attack on the side of the road on a fully surrendered man," Merritt said upon the video's release, according to the Post.
"He was perfectly fine when the car came to a stop," Merritt separately told The New York Times. "He wasn't apparently injured at all. It's obvious from these videos he was brutalized and tortured for about 15 minutes."
No one has been charged in connection with Greene's death. One of the troopers involved, Chris Hollingsworth, died last fall in a car crash, state police spokesman Lt. Melissa Matey previously confirmed to PEOPLE; another, Kory York, was suspended after Greene's death but has since been restored to active duty.
Louisiana State Police had criticized the video's release.
The agency "is confident in the judicial system and fair review of this incident and continues to offer our full cooperation," it said in a statement. "Unauthorized release of evidence undermines the investigative process and compromises the fair and impartial outcome for the Greene family, LSP employees, and the community."
According to AP, the video from the officers' body camera captured troopers punching and dragging Greene at the end of a high-speed chase outside of Monroe.
"I'm your brother! I'm scared! I'm scared!" the unarmed Greene is heard saying to the white troopers, who repeatedly jolt him with a stun gun even as he remains inside his vehicle, according to the video.
"The 46-minute clip shows one trooper wrestling Greene to the ground, putting him in a chokehold and punching him in the face while another can be heard calling him a 'stupid motherf-----,'" reports the AP.
Further describing the video, the outlet reports: "Greene wails 'I'm sorry!' as another trooper delivers another stun gun shock to his backside and warns, 'Look, you're going to get it again if you don't put your f------ hands behind your back!' Another trooper can be seen briefly dragging the man facedown after his legs had been shackled and his hands cuffed behind him."
Greene was then left facedown for more than nine minutes, while officers cleaned blood from their hands and faces using sanitary wipes.
"I hope this guy ain't got f------ AIDS," one of the troopers is overheard saying on the video.
Renee Smith, the Union Parish coroner, said Greene's death initially was ruled accidental and was attributed to cardiac arrest.
In addition to the restraint and the blows to Greene's head, the new autopsy report cites cocaine in Greene's system as a factor in his death. But it specifically removes the crash and "agitated delirium" as factors cited in Greene's original autopsy. It also concludes that Greene's fractured breastbone and ruptured aorta likely resulted from CPR and other efforts undertaken by first responders, rather than by his vehicle's low-speed crash, reports AP.
According to an incident report, Greene was being pursued by police just after midnight for an unspecified traffic violation but refused to pull over his silver Toyota before crashing into a tree.
After the video was made public, the U.S. Justice Department confirmed its criminal investigation, including the involvement of its civil rights division, and said "appropriate action" would be taken if federal crimes were committed, reports the Post.
In July, according to AP, an attorney for the involved troopers, P. Scott Wolleson, wrote in a court filing in response to the family's civil lawsuit: "At trial, defendants will present scientific evidence that Mr. Greene's death was caused by a crash-related blunt force chest trauma resulting in a fractured sternum and ruptured aorta."