The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A Black state trooper spoke out about police brutality. Louisiana police want to fire him.

An image from the body camera of a Louisiana State trooper in 2019. (Louisiana State Police/Associated Press)
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More than a year had passed since a Black motorist in northern Louisiana died after being violently arrested by state police, but trooper Carl Cavalier was just hearing about it. Graphic details from the 2019 incident had rippled through the department. “It’s worse than George Floyd,” Cavalier recalled one investigator saying.

Cavalier spent months quietly trying to figure out what happened and why the police leaders had not disclosed more. When video later emerged in May showing troopers beating the motorist, Ronald Greene, he gave a series of blistering news interviews accusing those involved of murder and alleging a “coverup” by police, a claim that officials have frequently sidestepped in public comments about the matter.

“There are killers,” Cavalier told one local news outlet in the summer, “and there are people who are okay with the killers being on the job.”

This week, police officials moved to fire Cavalier, 33, for speaking out about the incident. In an Oct. 11 letter Cavalier shared with The Washington Post, they said he violated policies related to public statements, loyalty with the department and seeking publicity, and accused him of conduct unbecoming of an officer. He could lose his job within 45 days, it said.

“Trooper Cavalier received the decision of the appointing authority to move forward with termination based on an administrative investigation which revealed he violated several departmental policies,” Louisiana State Police spokeswoman Melissa Matey said Thursday in an emailed statement to The Post. “It should be noted that our disciplinary administrative process is not finalized and Cavalier remains an employee at this time.”

Cavalier, who is Black, was already serving a suspension for publishing a fictional book under a pseudonym over the summer that describes a Black police officer’s experiences with racial injustice. He also filed a lawsuit last month alleging his supervisors discriminated against him and ignored his complaints. Police declined to comment on this Thursday.

In the wake of Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer last year, police departments nationwide have faced calls to address racism and patterns of excessive force within their ranks. While it’s rare for such pressure to come from internal whistleblowers, Floyd’s death and the protests it ignited have prompted many officers to speak out about discrimination and violence against Black Americans.

Cavalier’s possible termination comes amid a broad federal investigation of misconduct among the Louisiana State Police, which has been plagued by growing allegations of excessive force against people of color.

The Justice Department probe began in May after the Associated Press published the leaked body-camera footage of Greene’s arrest and has since widened to examine whether supervisors had obstructed justice. Police officers are seen punching, dragging and shocking Greene with a stun gun after a high-speed chase, then leaving him unattended in handcuffs for more than nine minutes. The 49-year-old was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly after.

Police held the footage for two years and initially told Greene’s loved ones that he died in a car accident after driving past a traffic stop, according to a lawsuit filed by the man’s family.

Nick Manale, a Louisiana State Police spokesman, said of Greene’s death: “Since the day of the incident, LSP detectives were involved in the investigation and the department has continued to cooperate fully with the ongoing federal and state investigation.”

In 2019, a Louisiana state trooper struck a Black motorist 18 times with a flashlight during a traffic stop, leaving him with a broken jaw and broken ribs. The trooper pleaded not guilty to a federal civil rights charge.

Cavalier, who has been a state trooper for seven years, said it was easy to imagine himself or a family member in Greene’s place, as the victim of a brutal beating by police. A sense of duty motivated him to inquire about the case in the department and go public with what he said he found.

“It was what I was sworn to do,” Cavalier said in an interview Thursday. “If I feel a crime was committed, I feel compelled to do my job.”

Taking up his concerns to his superiors wasn’t an option, he said. He described a “good old boy” culture within the department and said his previous grievances about harassment and discrimination had gone unanswered.

“I couldn’t go up the ladder because up the ladder is part of the problem,” he said. “Up the ladder is some of the people perceived to be committing these criminal acts.”

Cavalier gave his first televised interview about the Greene case in June with a local news station. He read investigative notes on air, saying they should be turned over to federal authorities.

He then gave interviews to another local news outlet and a local radio station in which he decried the delayed release of the body-camera footage and pressed for accountability. “I considered it a murder,” Cavalier said. “Because why else would we hesitate to be transparent about it? Why else would we not do our jobs and hold these guys accountable?”

Police issued him warning letters saying he was under investigation for the local news appearances. In July, when his book was published, he received a five-week unpaid suspension.

Two officers involved in Greene’s arrest have faced less discipline. One officer was cleared of wrongdoing after an investigation, while another officer who had dragged Greene by his legs received a 50-hour suspension, as the New Orleans Advocate reported. A third officer, Chris Hollingsworth, died in a single-vehicle crash after he learned that he could be fired for his role in the incident.

Since going public with his claims, Cavalier said he’s received a flurry of vitriolic messages. Strangers accused him of trying to start a “race war.” A colleague he once considered a mentor wrote him a heated text, he said, blasting him for breaking a “blue wall of silence.” But he said others in the department, including White officers, have stood by him.

Cavalier had been bracing for the termination letter he received this week. He plans to appeal the decision by his superiors, along with the suspension he’s already serving. Ultimately, he wants to stay on the force and move back to the narcotics division, where he was working until police leaders changed his assignment last month.

“I would love to keep my job. I’d love to continue to help people. That’s what I started out to do,” Cavalier said. “Law enforcement and regular everyday citizens are having problems with each other these days. I’d like to be that glimmer of hope.”