By Luke Britt/Editor
The attorney for former Louisiana State Trooper Kory York, one of three defendants charged in the 2019 beating death of Ronald Greene, asked Third District Judge Thomas Rogers on Tuesday to dismiss the charges against his client because he believes an expert witness’s grand jury testimony was tainted by an internal LSP report the expert should not have been allowed to read.
According to Tuesday’s discussions in open court, York incriminated himself while being questioned by investigators with the LSP Internal Affairs Division, and his incriminating statements were included in a report that was later given to Seth Stoughton, a use-of-force expert hired by the prosecution. Stoughton testified before a Union Parish Grand Jury in December that York did, in fact, use excessive force against Greene, and Small argued that the expert might have reached a different conclusion had he not read that IA report.
Statements troopers make during LSP Internal Affairs investigations, by law, cannot be used as evidence against them in criminal court because troopers who refuse to cooperate with IA Investigations can be fired for that refusal regardless of whether they have committed any other offense. While it is legal for the LSP to compel troopers to give statements during an internal investigation, those statements are inadmissible in criminal court because they violate the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment prohibition against forcing defendants to incriminate themselves.
Greene died on May 10, 2019, near Crossroads at the end of a high-speed chase that began in Ouachita Parish. LSP originally told Green’s family that he died from injuries sustained when he crashed his car during the chase. Two years later, the Associated Press released body cam videos showing state troopers and one Union Parish sheriff’s deputy beating and tasing Greene multiple time after he was handcuffed and shackled.
Use-of-force expert Stoughton was tasked by Third Judicial District Attorney John Belton with rendering an opinion on whether the use of force that resulted in Greene’s death was excessive and was given access to the evidence necessary for him to make that call. The forbidden IA report apparently was among the evidence he was provided. On Tuesday, Belton told the court that he did not know how the IA report ended up in the evidence Stoughton was given.
Stoughton’s 300-plus page report included two references to the IA report – once in sentence and once in a footnote. In that sentence Stoughton did not write that his conclusion was based on what he read in the IA report but that the report corroborated the conclusion he reached after reviewing other evidence, most notably the now infamous body camera video of officers tasing and beating Greene to death.
In a moment incongruous with the theme of the day, Holloman and Smith both appeared at different points to quote from the very document they both agreed was privileged.
Holloman quoted a statement the IA report attributed to York in which, just after arriving on the scene, the trooper allegedly said over the radio, “Code four, everything under control,” before he turned off his body camera and began to kick and drag Greene as the man lay handcuffed and shackled on the ground.
A moment later, Smith quoted a statement the IA report attributed to York in which the trooper allegedly said he felt that he was “never in danger” from Greene.
According to Small, those two references in the IA report justify the dismissal of the negligent homicide and obstruction of justice charges against York.
“That statement is 100 percent off limits,” Small told Judge Rogers. “That report was never supposed to have been given to the state.”
Prosecutor Hugo Holland presented Judge Rogers with an affidavit from Stoughton in which Stoughton wrote that he would have concluded that excessive force was used regardless of what the IA report said, but Small argued that this assertion is irrelevant.
Small argued that it is impossible to know for certain what conclusion Stoughton might have reached if he hadn’t read the IA report because, “He did read it.”
Holland responded that Stoughton’s report was provided to the District Attorney but was not shown to the grand jury nor did the expert refer to it when he testified. Holland also reminded the court that Stoughton’s testimony was not the only evidence presented to the grand jury.
“You still got the video,” he said. “You still got all the experts saying the use of force was unlawful.”
Stoughton apparently also had access to the recordings IA investigators made of their York interview, and Smith said he wants to know if Stoughton listened to those tapes.
Holloman told Judge Rogers that he doesn’t know if Stoughton listened to the tapes and offered to obtain a second affidavit from the expert witness addressing that concern.
Earlier in the hearing, before the IA report debate began, Rogers granted a request by defendant LSP Lt. John Clary that his trial be held separately from the other defendants.
Rogers set a hearing date of Oct. 12 to hear arguments regarding a motion from the third defendant, UPSO Dept. Chris Harpin, to have his charges dismissed. Harpin faces two counts of malfeasance in office for allegedly battering and pepper spraying Greene after he had been subdued