Credit: Charles Maldonado / The Lens

After an announcement Thursday that the U.S. Department of Justice will launch a civil rights  investigation into the Louisiana State Police over allegations of excessive uses of force and racial discrimination, a spokesperson for the New Orleans Police Deparment told The Lens that the department will continue its law enforcement partnership with the state agency in the city of New Orleans.

The Louisiana State Police previously had a deployment of troopers in and around the French Quarter, funded for several years by a quarter-cent sales tax, where the agency faced repeated allegations of using excessive force and racial profiling. That arrangement ended in 2020. But LSP has since partnered with the NOPD in a citywide violent crime task force known as “Operation Golden Eagle.”  

The NOPD has long been under a federal consent decree following its own DOJ Civil Rights Division investigation that found the department was operating in violation of the U.S. Constitution. But despite the fact that state troopers have operated in New Orleans pursuant to agreements with the city government, the agency’s deployments here are not subject to the same federal court monitoring or post-consent-decree policies as the NOPD.

Kristen Clarke, head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, announced the “pattern-or-practice” investigation into LSP on Thursday morning. 

“Based on an extensive review of publicly available information provided to us we find significant justification to open this investigation now,”  Clarke said. “For example, we recieved information about the repeated use of excessive force, often against people who are suspected of minor traffic offenses, are already handcuffed, or are not resisting.” 

She also noted that there are reports that troopers target Black residents in their traffic enforcement and uses of force, and also “disturbing information about the use of racial slurs” by troopers.  

The DOJ investigation into LSP comes a year after video surfaced of Ronald Greene, a Black motorist in North Louisiana, being beaten and tased by state troopers following a high-speed chase in 2019.

The incident is now the subject of an investigation by the state legislature.

In August of last year, the ACLU of Louisiana sent a letter to the DOJ that identified over a dozen federal civil rights lawsuits against LSP from the previous five years related to excessive force and other misconduct that the group said spoke “to a need for significant reform.” It urged them to open an investigation.

With the announcement on Thursday, Clarke said that LSP was the first statewide agency in two decades that the DOJ would investigate. 

Still, a spokesman for NOPD said that the department will forge ahead with another summer deployment of Operation Golden Eagle. Last year, the operation brought dozens of state police troopers into the city to conduct stops and make arrests.

 “The NOPD partnership with the Louisiana State Police will continue,” Gary Scheets, a spokesperson for NOPD, said in an email to The Lens.

Just weeks ago, NOPD announced that it would renew Golden Eagle, touting the success of last year’s operation, saying it reduced violent crime.  But public defenders and civil rights groups have raised concerns over what they described as “reckless police activity” by state troopers.

Last year, the LSP dedicated over two dozen troopers to Operation Golden Eagle, along with five dispatchers and four pilots. 

NOPD was the subject of a DOJ civil rights investigation in 2011, which ultimately led to a federal oversight in the form of a consent decree — approved in 2013 — that still dictates some of the policies and practices of the department.  Other agencies working in the city, however, are not bound by those same restrictions. 

The Lens reported that during the operation over a period of just a few months, a single Louisiana State Police trooper, Henry Kirsch, engaged in three high speed chases that would have been prohibited by NOPD officers under departmental policy and the consent decree. One of them ended in a crash that sent four people to the hospital, including a 7-month-old infant. 

In their letter to the DOJ last year, the ACLU warned that through partnerships “lack of training and accountability for LSP officers endangers Louisiana residents even within the jurisdiction of local agencies.” 

Nick Chrastil

Nicholas Chrastil covers criminal justice for The Lens. As a freelancer, his work has appeared in Slate, Undark, Mother Jones, and the Atavist, among other outlets. Chrastil has a master's degree in mass...