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Louisiana judge quashes some counts against officers charged in connection with death of Black motorist Ronald Greene

<i>Greene family attorney</i><br/>A Louisiana judge has quashed counts against two of the law enforcement officers charged in connection with the May 2019 arrest and death of Black motorist Ronald Greene.
Greene family attorney
A Louisiana judge has quashed counts against two of the law enforcement officers charged in connection with the May 2019 arrest and death of Black motorist Ronald Greene.

By Nick Valencia, Amy Simonson and Michelle Watson, CNN

(CNN) — A Louisiana judge has quashed counts against two of the law enforcement officers charged in connection with the May 2019 arrest and death of Black motorist Ronald Greene.

Former state troopers John Peters and Dakota DeMoss no longer will face obstruction of justice charges in the case, Third Judicial District Court Judge Thomas W. Rogers ruled in court documents filed Monday.

Greene, 49, died in May 2019 after a confrontation in which police said Greene was resisting arrest and struggling with troopers following a chase and car crash outside the city of Monroe. His family said they were initially told Greene died on impact in the crash.

Body and dashboard camera videos of the incident – released two years after Greene’s death – show Greene being pulled from his vehicle and being violently beaten and Tasered by officers.

The judge ruled that two statements allegedly made by Peters during the course of the investigation did not meet the standard to charge him with obstruction of justice.

“(Peters) is alleged to have said ‘Bury it in the report,’ and ‘Don’t send the videos unless the (meaning the DA) asks for it,’” the judge’s ruling said. “‘Bury it in the report’ presumably is an admonition not to destroy, alter or remove inculpating evidence from a report, but to place it in the middle or towards the end of the report where a reader might overlook it.”

“Likewise, the second statement about not sending videos unless asked for is not an admonition to destroy, alter or remove the videos,” the judge added.

The judge found that while Peters’ alleged statements do not operate “in the true spirit of cooperation you would expect from a law enforcement officer,” neither of them rise to an obstruction of justice charge.

Peters is a former Louisiana State Police commander, CNN affiliate KNOE reported.

The judge also ruled that the obstruction count against DeMoss should be quashed because his actions in turning off his body camera audio did not constitute obstruction.

DeMoss was fired in 2021 over an excessive force incident not involving Greene, a Louisiana state official with knowledge of the investigation told CNN last year.

Prosecutors given 3 days to fix deficiencies in some charges against other defendants

The judge also ruled some counts against the other three defendants could be quashed unless prosecutors can cure deficiencies raised by the court within three days.

Kory York, who was a Louisiana state trooper when he was indicted on a negligent homicide charge and 10 counts of malfeasance in office, could have up to eight of his malfeasance counts quashed unless prosecutors “adequately identify each specific criminal transaction” that happened in the videos of Greene’s arrest, a court filing states.

A ninth malfeasance count against York will also be quashed for “disjunctive charges” unless prosecutors can fix issues raised by the court.

The Monday ruling did not consider York’s homicide charge.

John Clary, who was a Louisiana State Police lieutenant when he was indicted on one count of malfeasance in office and one count of obstruction of justice, could have the malfeasance charge quashed unless prosecutors make amendments to the charge, including providing exact moments in the video evidence that support their accusations, a court filing says.

At the time of their indictments, York and Clary were placed on paid administrative leave “pending the outcome of the legal proceedings,” Louisiana State Police Superintendent Lamar Davis said in December.

Harpin, who was a Union Parish sheriff’s deputy at the time of Greene’s arrest, could have two of the three malfeasance in office charges against him quashed – one due to “disjunctive charges,” and another due to a lack of time stamps on where the assaults on Greene occurred, a ruling reads.

CNN has sought comment from attorneys for Peters, York, Harpin, Clary and DeMoss. CNN has also sought comment from Union Parish District Attorney John Belton.

What we know about Greene’s death

Police said Greene crashed a car after officers tried to stop him for a traffic violation.

Body and dashboard camera videos of the incident – released two years after Greene’s death – showed Greene being pulled from his vehicle and being Tasered after the crash, and a trooper wrestling with him on the ground.

Video also shows a trooper punching him in the face and another punching his lower back while they try to handcuff him as he is lying face down. Audio from one trooper’s body camera reveals a telephone exchange after the beating, in which the trooper says, “I beat the ever-living f*** out of him, choked him and everything else trying to get him under control.”

An initial crash report from state police did not mention troopers using force against or arresting Greene. A separate state police document said: “Greene was taken into custody after resisting arrest and a struggle with troopers,” and he eventually became unresponsive and died while being taken to a hospital.

The troopers have maintained that Greene’s death “was caused by crash-related blunt force chest trauma that resulted in a fractured sternum and ruptured aorta” and said they used force “for their own personal safety and for the safety of the public,” according to court documents.

An initial autopsy report from the Union Parish coroner’s office listed Greene’s cause of death as “cocaine induced agitated delirium complicated by motor vehicle collision, physical struggle, inflicted head injury, and restraint.” The report did not assign a manner of death.

“Cocaine induced agitated delirium” is a rare condition, according to researchers, and one of the conditions of “excited delirium,” a controversial diagnosis not recognized by major medical organizations like the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association or the World Health Organization. It is, however, recognized by smaller organizations dealing with emergency medicine, such as the American College of Emergency Physicians.

The initial autopsy report said lacerations on Greene’s head were “inconsistent with motor vehicle collision injury” and were “most consistent with multiple impact sites from a blunt object.”

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CNN’s Jason Hanna and Christina Maxouris contributed to this report.

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