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AP Exclusive: Secret panel investigating Louisiana State Police unit’s treatment of Black motorists

In this Saturday, May 23, 2020 image from Louisiana State Police body camera video, An unidentified law enforcement officer applies an electric weapon to the back of motorist Antonio Harris as officers restrain Harris after a high speed chase in Franklin Parish, La., May 23, 2020, in an image from Louisiana State Police body camera video. Troop F of the State Police, a 66-officer unit, has become notorious in recent years for alleged acts of brutality that have resulted in felony charges against some of its troopers.Troopers from the (Larry Shappley / Louisiana State Police via AP)

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From the very beginning of Jim Mustian’s stellar reporting on the death of Black motorist Ronald Greene, he has been driven by two main questions: What really happened to Greene on the night of his 2019 arrest? And was this a pattern of how Louisiana state troopers treated other Black motorists?

Mustian answered the first last month when he exclusively obtained body camera video showing troopers stunning,choking, punching and dragging the unarmed Greene as he apologized and begged for mercy. And he began the process of answering the second this past week when he exclusively reported that the Louisiana State Police has convened a secret panel to investigate whether the same unit involved in Greene’s arrest was systematically targeting other Black motorists for abuse.

Mustian’s reporting,which was based on four people familiar with the investigation,found the panel was launched just a few weeks ago in response to Greene’s in-custody death and three other violent arrests of Black motorists,one who was punched,stunned and hoisted to his feet by his hair braids,another who was beaten after he was handcuffed, and yet another who was slammed 18 times with a flashlight.

As part of his detailed reporting,Mustian exclusively obtained body camera video of the arrest of the man pulled to his feet by his hair and conducted the first-ever interview with the man slammed with the flashlight,who tearfully told the story of how “I thought I was going to die that night.”

Mustian also reported that the panel was reviewing thousands of body camera videos from 12 specific white troopers,including four who were involved in Greene’s arrest,and that the probe was focused on Louisiana State Police Troop F, a unit that has become notorious in recent years for brutality.

Mustian’s story,accompanied by a video package produced by video journalist Cody Jackson,photos edited by Patrick Sison and an online presentation from digital producer Dario Lopez,scored strong play and engagement numbers on AP News,with nearly 260,000 hits. The AP story even fronted The Times-Picayune/Advocate of New Orleans,which has also been covering this story heavily.

For dogged reporting to keep the AP ahead on a searing case of racial injustice and its continuing fallout, Jim Mustian wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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