Union Parish District Attorney John Belton who, according to filings by Louisiana State Police Trooper Kory York, supplied the Grand Jury charged with hearing the Ronald Greene matter with a use-of-force expert’s report which, due to its contents of quotes by York during an Internal Affairs investigation, violated York’s Fifth Amendment Right against self-incrimination.
When we published our most recent feature entailing the Motions by all Defendants in the Ronald Greene criminal trial to have their Indictments Quashed and for their Cases to be Dismissed With Prejudice (meaning they can’t be reasserted), we included in the headline that District Attorney John Belton came, “perilously close to being held in Contempt of Court.”
In our accompanying video of that feature, we brought out how Belton managed to come so close to being held in Contempt. In today’s video, we want to focus solely and exclusively on Belton’s actions in that regard. Here’s today’s video:
Sound Off Louisiana founder Robert Burns explains why Union Parish DA came, “perilously close to being held in Contempt of Court” by Third JDC Judge Thomas Rogers on Friday, June 23, 2023 during a hearing for Motions to Quash Indictments and Dismiss Cases With Prejudice heard on the parts of all Defendants in the case entailing Ronald Greene’s in-custody death at the hands of law-enforcement officers on May 10, 2019.
As subscribers and casual site visitors are aware, in our previous feature, we divulged that Mike Small and T. Taylor Townsend, defense attorneys for LSP Trooper Kory York, filed this Motion to Quash and Request for a Kastigar Hearing which asserts that York’s Fifth Amendment Constitutional Right against Self-Incrimination (made applicable to state matters by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution) have been violated.
Small and Townsend allege those violations transpired when the State of Louisiana relied upon a use-of-force expert’s report authored by Seth Stoughton and presented findings in his report (along with direct testimony by Stoughton) to the Grand Jury.
York’s attorneys contend that, were it not for the fact that findings in that report, which they assert contains quotes made by Defendant Kory York during an LSP Internal Affairs investigation which commenced on September 15, 2020 and for which a report was issued on October 17, 2020, York would not have been indicted. Thus, York’s attorneys argue in the above-linked Motion that York, who was assured that nothing he said in that Internal Affairs interview could be used against him in any criminal prosecution (see page five of the above-linked document), had that assurance violated (thus violating his Constitutional Right), when Belton provided that material to the Grand Jury.
Interestingly enough, despite the fact that it has now been six and a half months since the Grand Jury indictments, no transcript of the Grand Jury hearings has been produced to provide to either the DA’s Office or the Defense Attorney in the case. To us at least, that is an utterly unbelievable fact, and we can only speculate as to why no such transcript has been produced. Perhaps, just perhaps, it may fortify York’s attorney’s claims as stated above.
As mentioned in our prior feature, that Motion to Quash and Request for Kastigar hearing was not even argued at the June 23, 2023 hearing because prosecuting attorney Hugo Holland indicated that he’d not had sufficient time to prepare an Opposition Memorandum; therefore, all parties agreed to defer any such hearing until after Judge Rogers renders his decisions on the pending Motions to Quash by all Greene Defendants.
Given the massive heat wave under which most of South Louisiana has found itself during the 4th of July four-day extended weekend, Burns decided to invest some time reading York’s Supplement to His Motion to Quash. which was filed into the record on the same day of the hearing, June 23, 2023. It focuses on the 10 counts of alleged Malfeasance in Office for which York was indicted.
We apologize for the extremely poor quality (in terms of visibility, not content) of the filing, but it’s the best we could get from off the Union Parish Clerk of Court’s office online. Let’s cover a few highlights of the filing at this time:
Mr. York is charged by Amended Bill of Indictment with one count of negligent homicide……and 10 counts of malfeasance in office.
Article I, Section 13 of the Louisiana Constitution …guarantee the accused the right to be informed of the “nature and cause” of the criminal charge brought against him.
Because the Amended Bill of Indictment fails to comply…, Mr. York filed a Motion for Bill of Particulars. On February 14, 2023, this Court Ordered the State to provide the particulars sought by March 14, 2023. A Show Cause hearing was scheduled for April 11, 2023.
Despite the Law, this Court’s Order, and D. A. Belton’s willingness to provide the constitutionally and statutorily required particulars, the State’s original response to the motion was to declare that it was not required to provide particulars because it had provided “open file discovery,” which consisted of a thumb drive containing massive amounts of data accrued as a result of years of investigations by federal, state, and local authorities. While the production of the thumb drive may have satisfied the State’s obligation to provide Mr. York with discovery materials……, it certainly did not comply with this Court’s Order to provide the requested bill of particulars.
At the show cause hearing on the sufficiency of the State’s responses of April 11, 2023, the State was again Ordered, this time in open court, to provide a bill of particulars. This Court then set a May 12 hearing on the Sufficiency of the State’s responses.
Counts 2-10 recite, in identical language, that Mr. York in essence violated his duty and committed malfeasance in office by the commission of simple battery on Mr. Greene. Count Eleven alleges that malfeasance occurred when Mr. York “negligently injured Ronald Greene by criminal negligence by forcing and or allowing him to remain in prone restraint, and/or committed simple battery on Ronald Greene.”
The State persisted in its failure to provide specific information pertaining to the simple batteries allegedly forming the predicates for the malfeasance charges…..
With regard to Count Two, the State offered up that while “no representative of the State during grand jury deliberations and as of this date there is no grand jury transcript available the “recollections” of the “State representative” (presumably an assistant district attorney) were that Count Two “resulted from testimony that York, with the assistance of co-defendant Harpin, applied OC spray to Greene once Greene had been subdued.” The State suggested that Mr. York “see also” the expert report of Seth W. Stoughton.
Mr. York cannot be forced to guess what he is charged with. He is constitutionally entitled to notice to the nature and cause of every accusation against him. The State has, in essence, admitted that it does not know the basis of the offense charged in Count Two, but that most likely, according to the memory of the “State’s Representative,” is was the application of OC spray. If the State is unsure of the facts supporting this Count, the charge simply should not have been brought, or, at the very least, the State should have figured it out by now and be in a position to supply the constitutionally required particulars.
We’re going to stop at this point, but we will refer anyone to pick up where we left off and start at paragraph 13 of the above-linked document.
We believe that we have provided sufficient detail as to why we chose the headline we chose both for this feature and the previous feature (entailing charges likely to be dismissed by Judge Rogers) and, again, we believe we’re, “being as kind as we can be” to Belton.
It is for matters such as this that we are so thankful that we can provide links for documents because we have a fear that, in instances like this, readers/viewers may perceive that Burns, a T-totaler, may have deviated and gotten plastered in drafting what has transpired in a case were it not for the documentation links to substantiate that what he has reported is factual. As the late C. B. Forgotston was so fond of saying, “You can’t make this stuff up!”
Having provided the above material (as utterly shocking as it is to us), we obviously have an obligation to at least provide the State’s response. Accordingly, here’s prosecuting attorney Hugo Holland’s response to the supplement of Small/Townsend (again, we’re sorry for the less-than-ideal quality of the document from a visibility standpoint), and here are a few highlights:
After filing the objection to the request for particulars, the undersigned (Hugo Holland) learned that the District Attorney Himself (Belton) had promised each defendant that a Bill of Particulars would be forthcoming. This miscommunication between the District Attorney (Belton) and the undersigned (Holland) is clearly the fault of the State, and pursuant to Chambers conference on April 11 prior to court, the State promised that it would abandon its earlier-filed objection to providing particulars and honor the District Attorney’s (Belton’s) affirmation that particulars would be provided. The court set a deadline for filing particulars, and the State filed a written Bill of Particulars prior to the deadline provided by the court.
It is these particulars to which the defendant (York) now complains in relation to counts 2 through 11 against him.
Turning now to particulars provided to Defendant York, the State wrote:
“As to the 10 Counts of Malfeasance in Office against York (Counts 2 – 11 of the Indictment) the legal predicate for these charges stems from La. R. S. 14:18(1) and (2) 14:35 and La. C. Cr. P. Acts 201 and 213. Although an officer may use reasonable force to effect a lawful arrest, an officer may not employ unnecessary and unreasonable brutality in making an arrest. The use of any such excessive force constitutes either intentionally refusing to perform a duty — i.e. an arrest — in a lawful manner or intentionally performing such duty in an unlawful manner.”
As to counts 3 – 10 of the indictment, the State wrote in its Bill of Particulars:
“Counts 3 through 10 of the indictment (Charging York with Malfeasance in Office) resulted from testimony that York battered Greene at least 7 times once Greene had been subdued, each such batter captured on the various videos provided to the defense in discovery. See also Expert Report of Seth W. Stoughton, whose report was provided to the defendant in discovery and who testified before the Grand Jury [Stoughton’s report is replete with reference to individual videos and time stamps.]
Defense counsel can watch the videos just like the grand jury and count the batteries himself……The State could hardly be more particular.
The defendant’s original request for particulars asked that the State provide him with the exact time-stamp on the various videos when the alleged batteries occurred. This the State need not do. The defendant may not use a request for particulars to obtain the State’s evidence — it is merely a mechanism by which to inform him of the essential facts of the crime charged.
The State knows of no method by which to properly amend Count 11 to both comply with the law and accurately represent the facts as they are known to it.
So, it looks like, at a bare (and we emphasize “bare”) minimum, Count 11 against York is going to be quashed. We’ll also reiterate that there were numerous instances in which Holland said, “I can’t fix that,” entailing other defendants at the hearing on June 23, 2023, so presumably those Counts against those Defendants will be quashed as well.
We’ve got a few other observations, to wit:
- We do not agree with Holland that the request for the Bill of Particulars constitutes an effort by the Defendants to, “obtain the State’s evidence.” Common sense dictates that the Defendants already have the evidence in the form of the various videos Holland references. To us, the defense attorneys made compelling arguments in court when they indicated, “Your Honor, they (the State) are seeking to have us do their job for them!” The State has an obligation to state with specificity what batteries York allegedly committed and, since they’re saying it’s so easy to do by watching the videos (and referencing time stamps on the expert’s report), it begs the question of why it is not equally easy for the State to do it as requested by the defense attorneys! To us, to run the risk that these indictment counts will be quashed because of a failure to do that which the State readily indicates it expects defendants to do constitutes one or more of the following attributes attributable to State prosecutors: #1) laziness, #2) indifference, or #3) a direct indication that they’re not even sure themselves which acts the Grand Jury identified as constituting batteries! Obviously, a transcript may help clarify that, but alas, no such transcript apparently exists; furthermore, we saw no indication if one is even attempting to be produced and, if so, when it may become available (at least to the prosecutors and defense attorneys).
- We are literally dumbfounded that the State is representing that, “based on a representative’s recollection” a key battery allegedly committed by York transpired when he, with the assistance of Deputy Harpin, administered “OC (pepper) spray” to Greene. One of our most reliable sources entailing LSP told us in December of 2021 (when everyone was expecting indictments at the Federal level in the Greene matter which totally fizzled) that the Federal Grand Jury had grave difficulty coming to the conclusion that pepper spray was used on Greene and, absent that finding by the Federal Grand Jury, obtaining Federal indictments entailing civil rights violations would be “very problematic.” If our steady-reliable source was accurate entailing that, it begs the question of how the State Grand Jury was so apparently easily able to ascertain that the spray was used on Greene. Perhaps the deployment of pepper spray (if it transpired, would be at the point in the video wherein Harpin states, at least regarding something applied to Greene, “Yeah, that s— hurts, doesn’t it?”). If so, was that incident referenced by that “Stoughton expert report” to be specific as to the application of pepper spray? We already know that making a public records request for the Stoughton report would be futile for the same reason that the Internal Affairs report authored by LSP Trooper Michael Talley dated October 17, 2020 (which referenced the “Lt. Clary body-worn video” which was widely reported to have been, “withheld by Clary until April of 2021,” with that report being made based upon highly, highly credible sources), was filed under seal. Small, in emphasizing at the June 23, 2023 Evidentiary Hearing that the Stoughton report was prepared by, “the State’s hired gun,” was also quick to point out that the report has not even been formally agreed upon as evidence at this stage. Furthermore, he has stated that, to the extent it may be used to prop up indictments (most notably the negligent homicide count) his client “demands” the right to cross-examine Stoughton in open court. We can only state our belief that the State should have been, and most certainly needs to be, much, much more emphatic about exactly what acts form the basis for the charges against York! This business of, “Well, based on a State representative’s recollection,” is complete and utter horse manure from our vantage point! To reiterate what we said in point # 1 above, we find it equally appalling that there’s no transcript of the Grand Jury testimony that may shed much more definitive light on this and other matters to where the DA’s case doesn’t appear so “haphazard and disorganized,” a characterization that we believe we’ve provided more than adequate foundation to assert.
- DA Belton, very early on after learning of the Greene matter, confessed that his office lacked the resources to properly prosecute this matter and he therefore sought for the U. S. Attorney’s Office to handle the matter at the Federal level. Our own theory (and it’s strictly ours), is that the Feds, upon reaching the near-end of the period for which it could keep a Federal Grand Jury empaneled and also realizing it simply was not going to be able to convince 16 of 23 jurors to indict any officers involved in the Greene arrest, reluctantly transferred the matter back to Belton with the hope that he could procure indictments of some variety against one or more defendants. We further theorize (again emphasizing that it’s just our theory) that the Feds then hoped to use the indictments as something they could hold over the low-level LSP troopers’ heads to get one or more of them to turn on the higherups at LSP regarding what seems to be the very obvious coverups and instances of Obstruction of Justice in which they engaged (to possibly include Gov. Edwards). If that was (is) the Feds’ strategy, it would appear to us that the strategy is destined for failure because the defense attorneys have indicated that their clients will not agree to any deal. Based upon what we’ve observed to this point, they would appear to have little incentive to agree to any such deal wherein they deliver any incriminating testimony against their superiors because the prospects for successful convictions against any of these officers would appear very bleak given all of the haphazard and disorganized manner with which the Union Parish DA’s Office is handling this entire prosecution. If it is this bad entailing specifics regarding a grand jury wherein everything is one-sided and the defense is not even present, can anyone imagine just how bad of a train wreck this may end up being should the matter actually make it all the way to a trial? All we can say is that, if this matter does proceed to an eventual trial, somebody for the State of Louisiana better step up his game! Otherwise, that trial is going to be worse than LSU’s 77-0 shellacking of Rice that Burns referenced in the video of the preceeding feature!
- If the reports of Belton being vetted by the Biden Administration for a Federal Judgeship are accurate, we would submit that his performance in this matter needs to be an integral part of that vetting process.
- We wondered how in the world Belton could simultaneously prosecute this case while also actively seeking to become Louisiana’s next Attorney General. The answer now seems obvious: He couldn’t. Perhaps, just perhaps, all of the talk of Belton becoming a Federal Judge is just a red herring to provide a good excuse for Belton to drop out of that race rather than the perhaps more realistic reason being that he may foresee this case gradually imploding on him before the electorate votes for AG in October.
- For Belton to permit Holland to make an actual filing objecting to the State’s request for a Bill of Particulars then blindside Holland in a Chambers meeting immediately before a Court hearing on the matter is beyond haphazard and disorganized. In our opinion, that act rises to the level of reckless. Furthermore, it was grossly unfair to Holland!
- In all of those instances wherein Holland uttered, “I can’t fix that,” at the June 23, 2023 Evidentiary Hearing, it would seem only logical that Judge Rogers would have little choice but to quash those counts of the indictments. Only time will tell if there’s even anything left (aside from York’s negligent homicide count which is going to be argued at a Kastigar hearing and a ruling transpiring sometime after that hearing) of the case or not. Regarding that negligent homicide count, obviously Judge Rogers will let that count hang until after Holland files an objection to the Quash Motion and a Kastigar hearing is subsequently held on that matter.
As we wrap up this feature, we’ll provide an update on the Greene civil case in Federal Court since it has now been 2 1/2 years since we provided this update on that matter (and we’ll point out that we brought up the issue of “sanitized phones,” — or at least former Chief of Staff Noel’s sanitized phone — LONG before it became a huge issue in the case).
As would be expected, discovery in the Greene civil trial in Federal Court has largely stalled pending the outcome of any criminal proceedings. In fact, on February 6, 2023, the collective defendants filed this Motion to Stay Discovery and Continue the Scheduled Trial Date and all deadlines pending the outcome of the criminal charges in State Court. Greene opposed the Motion.
As evidenced by this February 15, 2023 Order, the Court denied the Motion to Continue and granted the Motion to Stay all deadlines for that case pending the criminal proceedings in Farmerville. For those curious, here’s the Scheduling Order, which presently calls for a trial date of June 17, 2024. The Court also ordered that a Motion to Lift the Stay be filed upon the conclusion of the criminal proceedings and that, irrespective of the timing of any outcome of the criminal proceedings, a Status Report is to be filed every 180 days.
On May 23, 2023, the Court Granted a Joint Motion for Greene’s Counsel of Haley, et. al. to be substituted with attorney Stephen J. Haedicke. Also, on June 26, 2023, the Court issued this Order granting Florida attorney Guy Rubin‘s Motion to also Enroll as Counsel for Plaintiff.
Lastly, on September 20, 2022 the U. S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the Trial Court’s Ruling denying Attorney General Jeff Landry (and candidate for Governor)’s effort to toss the case based on qualified immunity. Let’s wrap this feature up with some of the wording we find intriguing from the Fifth Circuit’s (the one attorney Jill Craft is on record as saying, “Is stacked with Judges who don’t give a shit about civil rights.”) ruling:
Five officers—DeMoss, York, McElroy, Clary, and Peters (the “officers”)—moved to dismiss on qualified immunity and inadequate pleading grounds.
The district court adopted the magistrate judge’s Report and Recommendation denying the officers’ motions. First, on the § 1983 excessive force claims, the court concluded that qualified immunity is inappropriate because every reasonable officer would have known that he could not beat, smother, and choke an unresisting suspect who was subdued and posing no threat. Second, on the § 1983 bystander liability claims, the court similarly denied qualified immunity because every reasonable officer would have understood that he could not stand by while other officers engaged in excessive force. Third, on the state law claims, the court reasoned that the Louisiana excessive force inquiry mirrors its Fourth Amendment counterpart, so Ms. Greene’s state law claims were plausible “for the same reasons.” Lastly, it rejected the motions for a more definite statement, concluding that the claims are “straight-forward and well-defined.” The officers timely appealed.
As a preliminary matter, we first address DeMoss’s argument that Ms. Greene’s allegations are subject to a heightened pleading standard. He contends that because he asserted qualified immunity in response to Ms. Greene’s original complaint, her subsequent amended complaint must exceed Rule 8’s short-and-plain-statement standard. That is incorrect.
As to qualified immunity, the officers do not contest that the law prohibiting their alleged excessive force was clearly established. The officers instead urge that Ms. Greene did not plead her excessive force claims with sufficient specificity under Rule 8. All their arguments fall short.
Finally, the officers argue that the district court failed to evaluate qualified immunity separately for each officer. When officers’ actions are materially indistinguishable, however, we require only separate consideration, not separate analysis.30 The district court properly considered each officer’s actions.
The officers argue that qualified immunity applies because they did not have notice that failing to intervene while a fellow officer engages in excessive force is unconstitutional. That is not so. In May 2019 the law was “clearly established . . . that an officer [can] be liable as a bystander in a case involving excessive force if he knew a constitutional violation was taking place and had a reasonable opportunity to prevent the harm.”34 Based on the alleged facts that we must take as true, we conclude that any reasonable officer would have known that his failure to intervene over a period of almost thirty minutes or more while his fellow officers beat an unresisting suspect offends the Constitution.35
Drawing all inferences in Ms. Greene’s favor, we also conclude that she pleaded enough factual content to state a plausible bystander liability claim against each officer.36 Under the first element, all likely knew that a fellow officer was violating Mr. Greene’s constitutional rights. Indeed, with each officer’s personal participation in the excessive force, it is reasonable to infer that they each knew about the others’ unconstitutional conduct. Second, Ms. Greene pleaded that each officer was present at the scene of the beating. Third, because the beating occurred over an alleged span of twenty- nine to fifty-one minutes, it is also reasonable to infer that each officer had an opportunity to intervene during that window. Fourth, Ms. Greene alleges that each officer “watched” as the other officers used excessive force, again reasonably permitting an inference that they chose not to act.
Gee, perhaps the Fifth Circuit isn’t quite as “stacked” as Ms. Craft led Carl Cavalier to believe when, quoting his present attorneys, she “browbeat” him into accepting LSP’s $200,000 settlement to just fade off into the sunset!
We hope this comprehensive update on the Greene matter is deemed useful by our subscribers and casual site visitors. If nothing else, it occupied plenty of founder Robert Burns’ time while he avoided the stifling heat outdoors!
We hope everyone had an enjoyable 4th of July, and we’ll have another Sound Off Louisiana feature out before too long.
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