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AP investigation reveals pattern of beatings, shrouded in secrecy, by Louisiana State Police

In this March 2, 2019 image from police dashboard camera video obtained by The Associated Press, Louisiana State Trooper Jacob Brown slams motorist DeShawn Washington against the hood of a police cruiser during a traffic stop in Ouachita Parish, La., after troopers found marijuana in the trunk of Washington’s car, in a March 2, 2019 image from police dashboard camera video obtained by the AP. Use of force was omitted from the police report. (Louisiana State Police via AP)

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Law enforcement reporters Jim Mustian and Jake Bleiberg built on their previous reporting to reveal a devastating pattern of violence and secrecy at the Louisiana State Police, identifying at least a dozen beating cases over the past decade in which troopers or their bosses ignored or concealed evidence, deflected blame and impeded efforts to root out misconduct.

Their work, which included newly obtained video of some of the beatings, wins a Best of the Week award, emerging from an exceptionally strong week of entrants.

Their exclusive investigation was part of the fallout from the deadly 2019 arrest of Ronald Greene,whose death along a northern Louisiana road was initially blamed by troopers on a car crash. But the case was blown open this spring when the AP published long-withheld video showing what really happened — troopers stunning,punching and dragging the Black motorist as he pleaded for mercy and gasped for air.

Mustian and Bleiberg scoured investigative records and worked their sources to find out how often this kind of secrecy and obfuscation happens in the state police. And what they found went far beyond a string of similar cases and four new, long-buried videos.

They revealed that by the state police’s own count,67% of its uses of force in recent years have targeted Black people,double the percentage of the state’s Black population. They reported that a secret panel the state police set up this year to determine whether troopers systematically abused Black motorists was just as secretly shut down, leaving the agency blind to potential misconduct. And they revealed that a recently retired supervisor who oversaw a particularly violent clique of troopers told internal investigators this year that it was his “common practice” to rubber-stamp officers’ use-of-force reports without ever reviewing body camera video.

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Col. Lamar Davis, superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, speaks at a press conference in Baton Rouge, May 21, 2021, discussing the case of Ronald Greene, who died during 2019 arrest. – AP Photo / Melinda Deslatte

Impact from the story was swift. The head of the state police,Col. Lamar Davis,called an hourlong news conference the next day,not to rebut the story,but to outline a series of reforms,promise to do better and say he would be open to a U.S. Justice Department “pattern and practice” investigation into potential racial profiling. In a personal call to Mustian just minutes later,Davis was even more candid,telling him: “I’m a Black male. I don’t want to feel like I’m going to be stopped and thrown across a car just because of that,and I don’t want anyone else to feel that way. … I don’t want the community thinking we’re going to ‘get them.’”

Soon after,Democratic U.S. Rep. Troy Carter cited the AP’s reporting in joining a growing chorus of officials and activists calling on the federal oversight of the state police. “I have no faith they are capable of policing themselves,” he said in a statement. “Had it not been for the work of investigative journalists, we may never have heard of Ronald Greene.”

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Dallas-based reporter Jake Bleiberg, left, and New York-based reporter Jim Mustian pose for a photo at a Monroe, La., coffee shop, Aug. 4, 2021, while reporting on the Louisiana State Police. – AP Photo / Rogelio V. Solis

Mustian and Bleiberg’s story was accompanied by a video package by Stacey Plaisance,photos assembled by editor Patrick Sison and an online storytelling presentation by Dario Lopez that allowed readers to click on individual clips of the police beatings as they were mentioned in the story. The story was tweeted thousands of times and emerged as AP’s most-engaged story of a news-packed week, with readers spending an average of more than three minutes on the piece on AP News.

For dogged investigative reporting that peeled back the layers of case after case to reveal a pattern of abuse — and is effecting change in Louisiana — Mustian and Bleiberg earn AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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