In Ronald Greene’s death, a mother’s defiant quest for truth

National News
Mona Hardin

Mona Hardin holds the boxed ashes of her son, Ronald Greene, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. Hardin is haunted by the body-camera images of her son being punched, stunned and dragged by Louisiana State Police. She holds tightly to her son’s cremated remains and says she won’t be able to put him to rest until she gets justice. After a more than two-year federal probe, still none of the officers involved has been charged. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Mona Hardin calls it her walking nightmare.

She’s haunted by the body-camera images of her son Ronald Greene being punched, stunned and dragged by Louisiana State Police, and she’s enraged that troopers initially tried to explain away the Black man’s 2019 death as the result of a car crash.

She holds tightly to her son’s cremated remains and says she won’t be able to put him to rest until she gets justice.

“We have to relive this constantly,” Hardin told The Associated Press in an interview near her Orlando-area home. “They took joy in killing him.”

Hardin recoils at the pattern of police misconduct that’s emerged since her quest began. Indeed, Greene is not the only Black motorist abused in recent years by Louisiana’s premier law enforcement agency. An Associated Press investigation identified at least a dozen cases over the past decade in which troopers or their bosses ignored or concealed evidence of beatings, deflected blame and impeded efforts to root out misconduct. And by the state police’s own count, 67% of troopers’ uses of forcein recent years targeted Black people.

But it’s been a frustrating crusade. After a federal probe that’s dragged on more than two years, still none of the officers involved in Greene’s arrest has been criminally charged.

Along the way, the 70-year-old Hardin says her repeated trips to Washington, D.C., and Baton Rouge have been met with empty promises from officials, institutional wagon-circling and indifference. Hardin saw her son’s assailants stay on the job, unpunished for months, the then-head of the state police defending Greene’s deadly arrest as “awful but lawful” before abruptly retiring, and the body camera video remaining a secret from the public for more than two years before the AP obtained and published it this spring.

All of it has deepened her family’s pain, she said, while making a mockery of the criminal justice system.

“In the end, you just end up being part of a big nightmare,” Hardin said. “But that was my commitment. I won’t fail him.”

Not long before midnight on May 10, 2019, the 49-year-old Greene was driving near the University of Louisiana at Monroe when a trooper attempted to pull him over for a traffic violation. Greene, who an autopsy would show had cocaine in his system, sped away, leading troopers on a chase that topped speeds of 115 mph. It ended with troopers converging on Greene’s SUV, beating him, jolting him with stun guns and leaving him handcuffed and prone for several minutes as he pleaded for mercy and wailed:“I’m your brother! I’m scared!”

One trooper, Kory York, could be seen on body-camera video briefly dragging him facedown by his ankle shackles. Another, Chris Hollingsworth, struck Greene in the head several times with a flashlight, and was later captured on his squad car video boasting he “beat the ever-living f— out of him.”

Hundreds of miles away, in central Florida, Hardin said she “felt in my soul something was wrong with Ronnie.”

Those fears were confirmed when her daughter called her early that morning in a panic, saying Greene had been in a crash and “didn’t make it.” Alana Wilson said a state trooper told her by telephone that her brother “was in a car accident, hit a tree, went through the windshield and died on impact.”

Loved ones arriving at the hospital in West Monroe became suspicious after seeing the deep bruises on Greene’s face and cuts on his head.

“It didn’t look like what they said,” Wade said.

Hardin at first didn’t recognize the shrouded corpse as her son when she was allowed to see him later a funeral home. “I hugged on him and I kissed him and I kept saying, ’Mama’s here.”

Even the emergency room physician doubted the account of Greene’s death from the moment he arrived dead at the hospital, bruised and bloodied with two stun-gun prongs still protruding from his backside.

The crash claim became even less plausible to Greene’s family when they saw his vehicle, which had only minor damage. The airbags had not even deployed.

“Everything started to make sense,” Wilson said. “This man didn’t die from a car accident.”

Hardin’s anguish would only deepen in the months that followed. An avalanche of excuses — including the pandemic — compounded the uncertainty and lack of answers from, police, state prosecutors and the FBI’s field office in Monroe.

Hardin’s first ray of hope came when a civil rights law firm in Philadelphia agreed to take her case and filed a federal wrongful-death lawsuit just before the first anniversary of Greene’s death.

Hardin returned to Louisiana in the October 2020 for a private family viewing of the body-camera video.

“I had to see my son take his last breath,” she said. “I felt it.”

Whatever happens with the Greene case, Hardin says she will be denied full justice. Hollingsworth, the trooper who struck Greene in the head with a flashlight, died in a single-vehicle crash last year hours after he learned he would be fired for his role in the arrest. He was still buried with full state police honors.

“They overlooked what he did,” Hardin said.

Hardin still has not fully grieved the loss of her son and draws strength from a sorority of other mothers from similar cases, including Ahmaud Arbery’s, who can relate to the days when her sadness prevents her from getting out bed or even running errands in her car.

“I’ll have a heaviness and I’ll well up and I have to get off the road because the tears are so thick,” Hardin said.

“I just won’t fail him. There’s no other way to walk this nightmare.”

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Bleiberg reported from Monroe, La. Video journalist Allen G. Breed contributed to this report.

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