Louisiana has a father, son, and a culture that abuses police officers

Jacob Brown grew up in northern Louisiana's piney backwoods, where crosses and Confederate flags were everywhere. He was passionate about hunting and fishing, and he aspired to become a trooper.

Louisiana has a father, son, and a culture that abuses police officers

Brown was deemed troublesome by his instructors within weeks of his arrival at the Louisiana State Police Training Academy in Baton Rouge. One instructor wrote that Brown was arrogant and a rule-breaker who had "toxic" traits that would disqualify him for the elite state police agency.

Brown was fortunate that the state police was a place where you could trust who you knew more than what you did. Most introductory conversations eventually came down to one simple question: Who is your daddy?

Jacob Brown was the son of Bob Brown. He was a member of the top state police brass and would rise to second in command, despite being reprimanded for using the n-word against Black colleagues years before. The son would become not only a "legacy employee", but also prove his instructors prophetic, becoming one of the most brutal troopers in the state. He reserved most of his punches and flashlight strikes for the Black drivers that he pulled over near his home.

Bob Brown would answer colleagues and friends with an innocuous comment when they asked him how his first-born was doing as a trooper.

"He knocks heads."

The story of the Browns is interwoven into the history of the Louisiana State Police. It represents what dozens former troopers and current troopers describe to The Associated Press, as a culture that encourages impunity, nepotism, and sometimes outright racism.

This illustrates the dynamic that has made the agency the center of a federal investigation. It began with the fatal 2019 arrest of Black motorist Ronald Greene. Since then, it has expanded to include several other cases, many involving Jacob Brown. In these cases, troopers are accused in a series of beatings and cover ups even though they are captured on video.

"If you are a part of a good ol’ boy system, there is no wrong you could do," stated Carl Cavalier (a Black state trooper) who was once honored for valor, but was recently fired for criticizing the agency’s handling of cases of brutality.

They say it's an "us-versus-them" culture in which troopers and high-ranking officers are more interested in protecting each other than in living up to agency's image and honor, duty, and courage.

It's a culture where troopers who meet for Sunday church and backyard barbecues feel so protected from scrutiny that they can chat about their brutality on official channels. They even text each other photos of battered suspects with the comment "he shouldn’t have resisted."

It is a culture where 67% of troopers' recent uses of force targeted Black people - twice the number of state's Black residents - and in that troopers kept badges after sending out overtly racist emails with headings such as "Proudly White."

It's a culture where state police academy instructors were faced with widespread cheating scandals and sought to dismiss an entire class of cadets. This included the "legacies” of several high-ranking officers, yet almost all were allowed to go on to the force.

"There is a corruption that allows them to do whatever they damn well please," stated W. Lloyd Grafton (a use-of force expert) who served as a member of the Louisiana State Police Commission. They are not held accountable by anyone.

"WE HAVE GOT TO FACE THE HEAD ON"

In the wake of Greene's tragic death on a rural roadside in Louisiana on May 10, 2019, there was a potential reckoning within the Louisiana State Police. This fatality was initially attributed to troopers who believed that it was due to a car accident at the end a high-speed chase.

Later, state police acknowledged that Greene was in a "struggle” with troopers. Officials from Gov. John Bel Edwards refused to release the video from his body camera for over two years. The footage was finally published by the Associated Press this spring. It showed White Troops swarming Greene’s car, striking, punching, and dragging him by the ankle shackles. He wailed, "I'm Your Brother!" I'm scared, I'm scared!"

According to documents and sources familiar with the matter, federal investigators focused on the troopers in Fallout. They also wanted to know if top brass tried to obstruct justice to protect them. Investigators are focusing on the meeting at which the elder Brown was present. At that meeting, state police commanders pressured their detectives not to arrest a trooper who was seen on body-camera footage striking Greene in his head. Later, Greene boasted, "I beat all living f--- outta him."

Greene's murder was one of at least a dozen instances in the past decade that the AP identified in which state troopers and their bosses failed to acknowledge or conceal evidence of beatings, deflect blame and obstructed efforts to root out misconduct.

Many of these cases involve Monroe-based Troop F state police, which is well-known for its treatment Black motorists. It also counts Jacob Brown as one of its troopers. He can be seen beating a Black motorist with his flashlight in one video. In another, he smashes him into a police car and then beat another Black man with his dreadlocks and lifted him to his feet in another video. The troopers then exchanged "lol-pepper" text messages, bragging that the "whoopin' would give the man "nightmares" for a long period of time.

John Winzer, Greene’s nephew, said that they weren’t the people they think they are. He shudders each time he meets a state trooper driving on the highway. It's not different from organized crime. They hang out together. They ride together at night and eat together. It's like this.

The agency's superintendent admitted that the public distrust state police has been lost due to the "old-fashioned culture" of Louisiana's northern Parishes, in which troopers are trained to punish anyone who runs away from them or disobeys their badge.

Col. Lamar Davis, a Black veteran trooper who was brought in a year ago to reform the organization, said to AP, "It's unpleasant to hear that you guys are bullies."

He said, "We have to face it head-on." "We need to make some changes in our agency."

Davis has reorganized his troopers, rewritten use-of force policies and required that all troopers receive training on intrinsic bias. He acknowledged that it might not be enough to stop growing calls for a U.S. Justice Department pattern and practice probe into possible racial profiling of a nearly 1,000-trooper army that is more than three-quarters White.

Davis had to perform one of the most difficult reforms in his tenure. He called Bob Brown, a man Davis used to work for, and told him that Davis had ordered the arrest of Jacob, his son, and three other troopers on state charges. This was after three separate beatings of Black men.

Davis stated, "It wasn’t pleasant", but declined to give details.

"A SOUVENIR"

Bob Brown was born in Lake Providence, Louisiana, a small farming community on the Louisiana side.

He was raising his children in a Monroe farmhouse, 20 miles from Monroe, by the 1990s. Before joining the Monroe police, he worked for them. He was then assigned to the state police as a trooper investigating accidents on rural roads.

His former colleagues described him fondly as a friend and skilled investigator, who brought country canny into his policing. Brown helped a young trooper get his cruiser out of the mud by pulling him with his tractor. Brown was well-connected and knew the politics of state police. He served as a sergeant for narcotics, before being promoted to major oversight of statewide criminal investigations.

The file of the elder Brown with the State Police Commission (which acts as a civil services board) does not mention any allegations of excessive force. His complete personnel file has not been released by the State Police.

Lee Harrell, a former sheriff in Richland Parish and former state police officer alongside Brown, said that although he was talented at his job, he wasn’t a glory hunter. "He refused to talk to the media about what he did with his largest drug bust."

However, Brown's choice in words, just months before the state police named their first Black superintendent, drew a formal protest from a coalition Black troopers.

Brown was heard in the office laughing with his colleagues about the state police promotional exam results. Some troopers were furious at how badly they had scored and believed the test was flawed.

According to records of state police, Brown said that he didn't understand how 'n -----s could pass this test. They are not smarter than we."

Brown admitted that he doesn't remember making the comment, but it was possible due to the fact that the slur had remained part of his vocabulary.

Brown was also accused of hanging a Confederate flag outside his office. However, it wasn't clear how long the flag had been there before it came under scrutiny. Harrell stated that Brown kept one of the Confederate flags "as souvenir" and that state police in northern Louisiana would sometimes be called to remove them.

The ex-sheriff, who is white and a former sheriff, said that no one in the Monroe office of the state police objected to the flag being placed.

Harrell spoke as he pointed to the Confederate battle flag that was flapping in his neighbor’s yard.

Brown was able to escape with a reprimand. Many of Brown's white colleagues claimed they didn't know about the incident even though Kevin Reeves (a close family friend) promoted him to second-in command of the state Police in 2020. He cited his "phenomenal leadership" at all levels of the ranks.

The story was known by Black troopers who shared it with new Black recruits.

Cavalier stated, "Everyone was on the same page that he was racist openly about it."

Brown, who is now retired, declined multiple interview requests and told an AP reporter that "a lot of things have been reported that are wrong."

Before hanging up, Brown, now 60 years old, said "I gave 30 year to this state."

"TOXIC EMPLOYEE"

His son, a decade later, followed Brown into law enforcement.

Jacob Brown was raised in Monroe with three brothers and sisters. He played basketball and baseball at a Catholic school. He was a perfect student for 12 years, and he volunteered at a vacation Bible school. He was interested in rules enforcement and worked as an umpire. He also loved hunting so much that he had a tattoo with 10 flying ducks on the right shoulder.

He once wrote to prospective employers, "My father taught my at a young age how to become a successful hunter." He taught me valuable lessons that I want to pass on.

He attended two years of community college after high school but did not graduate. After that, he worked as a roofer for a while. He was employed by the Ouachita parish Sheriff's Office in 2010. There he spent two more years in corrections and then became a patrol deputy.

Brown applied for the state police in 2014. He stated that he wanted to be a trooper as the agency was highly respected and that he enjoyed helping others.

Brown quickly proved that he was the trooper he wanted to be at the Baton Rouge training academy.

According to an instructor's memo, Brown denied that he had contraband. Sergeants searched the military-style barracks looking for prohibited items like cellphones. Brown then lied to the sergeant again, saying he hadn't shared any of the chewing tobacco with his classmates.

Sergeant. Len Marie, the officer who supervised the cadet classes, stated that the issue was not about banned tobacco but about integrity. Marie was sure Brown did not have any.

Marie wrote to Brown asking for his dismissal. These are the traits of a toxic employee and should be stopped from continuing his training."

He said, "These character flaws give a strong indication about the trooper Cadet Brown will eventually become."

Marie, who refused to comment, was chastised for writing the memo by state police higher-ups, according to multiple people who were with him. His request to expel Brown never came to fruition.

Marie, a former lieutenant, said that no one higher than him ever said that he would be terminated because he was related to someone. However, it's clear what you were led believe to be," David Ryerson, a retired lieutenant, said. It's all about who and what you know."

Cavalier said that other cadets who broke the rules were treated much harsher than Brown, who was in the same class as Cavalier and called him "untouchable."

Cavalier stated that a few cadets at the academy carried themselves with a certain attitude, which indicated they believed they would make it. They didn't doubt themselves.

Brown had 23 use of force between 2015 and 2015. 19 of these were against Black people. This tied him for the record for most state trooper uses of force in that time period.

Brown, a tall, shaved-headed man, often wearing a leather jacket and clad in it, made a striking figure for his 5-foot-10 stature. His disciplinary file shows that he was frequently counseled for profanity and unprofessional conduct as he enforced the "code of righteousness" state police.

He asked one motorist, who was traveling at 92 mph in a 55-mph zone, why the f---?

Brown was responding to a Monroe traffic stop in May 2019. He struck Aaron Larry Bowman, a Black motorist, 18 times with a flashlight. This left him with a fractured jaw, three broken bones, a broken wrist, and a gash on the head. Investigators determined that Brown had intentionally mislabeled the footage from his body camera.

When the video was finally obtained by AP and published earlier this year by AP, it showed Bowman lying on the ground pleading with mercy and shouting repeatedly between blows, "I'm resisting!"

Brown, 31 years old, pleaded not guilty to the federal civil rights offense in Bowman's beating. He has not responded to multiple requests for comment. Scott Wolleson, Brown's attorney, said that he would not comment on the case.

"THEY'RE OUT THERE EFFECTIVITY'

The Louisiana State Police ethos is so ingrained in favoritism towards the families of top brass that it is part of the state law. The Legislature created an exception to Louisiana’s nepotism ban in 2017 to allow a trooper, who has become the superintendent of the force, to continue on the force.

It was specifically passed for Kevin Reeves, then-Superintendent, and Kaleb, his son. They would be on suspension for 4 1/2 months without pay for causing a rear end crash that resulted in the deaths of two sisters, aged 18 and 11. Reeves was found to have driven recklessly at times, exceeding the speed limit 22 times, but he was not charged.

A few at the state police academy claim that another example of cheating was the case with the class 2019. This happened after an investigation of laptops revealed signs of possible cheating, including widely shared answer keys and copies from exams on law and force.

Interviews with officials and documents obtained by AP showed that some of the material was dated to 2014. This suggests to instructors that cadets could have been cheating for many years.

Kevin Reeves, however, refused to expel the entire class during a meeting with his instructors.

According to multiple witnesses, he said that "that's not going be happening." "I would rather use the shotgun approach with a sniper rifle than the shotgun."

Three months later, just before graduating, the state police internal affairs published a report that discredited the notion that cheating was widespread.

Even though records indicate that two cadets were fired because of cheating, and another was being scrutinized, investigators determined that the answers and tests that cadets received from troopers, classmates, and even a judge in state court were just "study material."

Mark Richards, a former captain who led the 2019 training academy, said that the cheating was "covered up" and that the agency never properly examined the possibility of troopers passing through the academy using pilfered questions.

Richards stated that there was a laundry list of cadets who got by by cheating in the six previous classes. They're still out there working.

Capt. Capt. Nick Manale, a spokesperson for the state police, disputed this assertion. He stated that there was no evidence of widespread cheating and that the investigations were done "according to policy and procedures."

"FAIL POINTS"

Davis, who is currently the head of the state police says that the actions of some bad troopers should not overshadow the positive work done every day by the majority. He admitted to the AP that he doesn't fully understand how widespread excessive force might be among his officers.

This is partly because for many years, supervisors have failed to review thousands upon thousands of hours worth of body camera footage. This is one of the "failures" Davis listed as part of the "overwhelming array of problems that he faced when he assumed control last year.

Davis was confident that there's no Ronald Greene case outside of the state police. He didn't hesitate to answer questions.

He said, "No, I'm no." "We haven't looked at every video."

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