Kevin Reeves

Kevin Reeves, head of the Louisiana State Police, will retire amid ongoing questions about the death of a Black man in custody. — AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File

BATON ROUGE, La. — A Black trooper with the Louisiana State Police was on a break when his cellphone buzzed with an unusual voice message. It was from a white colleague, unaware his Apple Watch had recorded him, blurting out the Black trooper’s name followed by a searing racial slur.

“F--- — n----, what did you expect?”

That unguarded moment, sent in a pocket-dial of sorts, touched off an internal investigation at Louisiana’s premier law-enforcement agency that remained under wraps for three years before a local television station reported last month that the white trooper had not even been reprimanded for the racist recording.

“I believe this to be an isolated incident and I have great confidence in the men and women who serve in the Louisiana State Police,” the agency’s outgoing head, Col. Kevin Reeves, said in response to the controversy.

But an Associated Press review of hundreds of State Police records revealed at least a dozen more instances over a three-year period in which employees forwarded racist emails on their official accounts with subject lines like “PROUD TO BE WHITE,” or demeaned minority colleagues with names including “Hershey’s Kiss,” “Django” and “Egg Roll.”

“The State Police has a real, deep-rooted racism problem,” said David Lanser, a New Orleans attorney with the Law Office of William Most, which obtained the records and emails through a targeted public-records request in 2018 for emails containing racist language. “Denying the existence of systemic and individual racism in the LSP will only serve to perpetuate its serious and often tragic effects on the people of Louisiana.”

Reeves, who abruptly retired this week amid a series of controversies involving race, did not respond to a detailed request for comment. A State Police spokesman said only that “these incidents were already addressed by the agency.”

On Friday, Gov. John Bel Edwards appointed a Black State Police captain, Lamar Davis, to succeed Reeves, who is white.

Law enforcement misconduct — especially cases involving bias — has drawn new scrutiny amid a racial reckoning sweeping the country after the killing of George Floyd.

In Louisiana, racial tensions have heightened in recent months amid a federal civil rights investigation into the still-unexplained death of Ronald Greene, a Black motorist taken into custody last year following a State Police chase near Monroe.

Reeves faced criticism for his secretive handling of the case, including waiting 474 days to open an internal probe and refusing to release body-cam video that, according to those who have seen it, shows troopers beating, choking and dragging Greene while calling him a “son of a b----.”

State Police records obtained by the AP revealed that Reeves also refused to discipline another state trooper and a longtime administrative assistant last year after they were found to have forwarded overtly racist emails from their account, including a five-page chainmail titled “BE PROUD TO BE WHITE” that claims white Americans have “LOST most of OUR RIGHTS” and addresses law enforcement treatment of minorities. The email questioned why “only whites can be racists” and challenged its recipients to be “proud enough to send it on.”

A State Police attorney said the emails were several years old when they surfaced and there had been “no complaints since” against either employee.

Other records obtained by AP revealed a pattern of racist remarks made by white troopers — such as saying a Black trooper resembled a “monkey” in his uniform.

A State Police captain, whose name was redacted in the records, accused a Black subordinate of lying after he told investigators he was offended by his colleagues repeatedly calling him “Django” after the character in a film about a fictional freed slave. State Police determined the nickname was “not intended to be racially derogatory.”

The same internal investigation delved into the use of the term “Oreo” to describe white troopers’ aversion to working a shift alone with two Black colleagues.

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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