Times-Picayune, Advocate sue Louisiana State Police, ask judge to review record redactions | Courts

The Times-Picayune and The Advocate filed suit Monday against the Louisiana State Police, asking a…

The Times-Picayune and The Advocate filed suit Monday against the Louisiana State Police, asking a judge to review redactions the agency’s lawyers made to public records related to troopers involved in the violent 2019 death of Black motorist Ronald Greene.

The records at issue are those of Master Trooper Kory York, one of 15 State Police employees whose employment records were requested on March 23.

This image from video from Louisiana state trooper Lt. John Clary’s body-worn camera shows trooper Kory York standing over Ronald Greene on his stomach on May 10, 2019, outside of Monroe, La. 

State Police initially balked at the request and said the records sought would be voluminous – approximately 9,000 pages; that the newspaper would have to pay roughly $2,250 to review them; and that providing them would be a slow process.

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The newspaper negotiated a compromise with Faye Morrison, a former in-house lawyer for State Police, to provide the records of a single trooper to see whether the request for the remaining troopers’ records could be narrowed. That trooper was York.

Nearly three months after the original request, State Police provided the York records, but they were heavily redacted, with page after page completely blacked out.

The redacted material included substantial portions of a disciplinary letter addressed to York, who was suspended for 50 hours without pay for his role in the Greene matter. Most of the letter was blacked out.

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York was among the troopers who responded to the scene where Greene crashed after a high-speed chase. York turned off his body camera before arriving at the scene, but other body camera footage showed him dragging Greene by his shackles and shouting expletives at him repeatedly, telling the prone man to “lay on your f—ing belly like I told you!”

State Police redacted other records on various grounds: because they contain personal financial or health information, or are part of an ongoing criminal investigation. The newspaper is only seeking information related to York’s disciplinary and service history.

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Louisiana Police Death Federal Probe

This image from video from Louisiana state police state trooper Dakota DeMoss’ body-worn camera, shows trooper Kory York grabbing the leg shackles and dragging Ronald Greene on his stomach on May 10, 2019, outside of Monroe, La. The video obtained by The Associated Press shows Louisiana state troopers stunning, punching and dragging the Black man as he apologizes for leading them on a high-speed chase, footage authorities refused to release in the two years since Greene died in police custody. 

The newspaper, represented by attorney Scott Sternberg, argues that the redactions to the York records are “overly broad and inconclusive,” and that reporting on the Greene case – which has received national attention – is “of the utmost public interest.”

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While public bodies may keep secret records that document an ongoing criminal investigation, the newspaper is arguing that Louisiana law has established that that precedent does not allow State Police to “simply place an otherwise public record into a criminal investigation to avoid producing it.”

That appears to be the agency’s tactic with the York disciplinary letter, Sternberg says.

“The actions of our State Police are the subject of national interest following Ronald Greene’s horrific death,” Sternberg said. “The taxpayers of our state deserve to know what our state police knew about their troopers, and when they knew it.

“This is a much larger story than just Trooper York — but it starts with ensuring we can review the records of this trooper with minimal redaction to get to the bottom of the story.”

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Greene’s death, and a number of other incidents involving violence against Black motorists by officers from Monroe-based Troop F, are under investigation by the FBI. Louisiana’s Legislative Black Caucus this week pushed for a broader “pattern or practice” investigation by the Department of Justice, which, if conducted, could result in a consent decree requiring reforms at the state’s top law enforcement agency.

The lawsuit asks that a judge review the unredacted records and determine which portions of York’s file should be kept secret.

The suit, filed in the 19th Judicial District, names Col. Lamar Davis, head of the State Police and its custodian of records, as the defendant. Davis is an appointee of Gov. John Bel Edwards. The case has been assigned to Judge Chip Moore.