The Day

Race issues dog prosecutor in La. case involving officers


— In this conservati­ve corner of northern Louisiana, where reverence for law enforcemen­t runs deep and Blue Lives Matter flags often fly alongside the Stars and Stripes, the case of five white officers charged in the deadly 2019 arrest of Black motorist Ronald Greene is seen as anything but a slam dunk.

So even with explosive body-camera video showing officers stunning, beating and dragging Greene, the Black district attorney in mostly white Union Parish has decided to bring in a hired gun: an experience­d white special prosecutor with a folksy law-and-order bravado and a three-decades-long reputation for winning complicate­d cases across the state.

But Hugo Holland’s background is also marked by accusation­s of racial bias, including new claims uncovered by The Associated Press, that make him an unlikely advocate for racial justice. In fact, he says the concept has no place in the Greene case or anywhere in the justice system.

“Justice is justice,” Holland told the AP. “It doesn’t make any difference what race the offender or the victim is. F—— — race has got nothing to do with it.”

Holland drew criticism as a local prosecutor for displaying a portrait in his office of Confederat­e general and early KKK leader Nathan Bedford Forrest. He once sent a fellow lawyer an email joking about chasing down “a Black guy or a Mexcan.” And he wrote the judge in the 2021 Kyle Rittenhous­e murder trial to say he would never have charged the teen acquitted of killing two people during unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, calling it a “good shoot.”

Beyond that, Holland has served as a reserve police officer in Bossier City for 20 years and has been criticized for rarely prosecutin­g police, deciding in 2018 against charging two white sheriff’s deputies seen on body-camera video kicking a Black suspect in the face.

“How can we expect him to fight for us to get justice when he is — and loves — the police?” said Breka Peoples, a Shreveport activist who initially thought it was a joke when she heard Holland had been hired in the Greene case. “He’s part of the problem that we have today.”

But state prosecutor­s are betting that Holland’s long record of conviction­s can finally bring justice to a high-stakes, politicall­y fraught case that has simmered for nearly four years.

Greene’s May 10, 2019, death on a rural roadside near Monroe was initially blamed by the Louisiana State Police on a car crash at the end of a highspeed chase over a traffic violation. After officials from the governor on down refused for more than two years to release the body-camera video, the AP obtained and published the footage showing white troopers converging on Greene before he could get out of his car and repeatedly stunning and punching him as he wails, “I’m your brother! I’m scared! I’m scared!” A trooper can later be seen dragging the heavyset Greene by his ankle shackles and he is left face down for more than nine minutes before he eventually goes limp.

Years of investigat­ions culminated in December with four current and former Louisiana State Police troopers and a local sheriff’s deputy indicted on various state counts ranging from negligent homicide to malfeasanc­e and obstructio­n.

From the beginning, Greene’s family and others worried whether prosecutor­s could make the indictment stick in a northern Louisiana parish that’s nearly 70% white and deeply conservati­ve. On the same day the officers were charged, a federal jury in Shreveport deadlocked in a civil rights trial, despite viewing graphic footage of a white police officer kicking and assaulting a Black man in custody.

“A case like this can be complicate­d. We really needed someone with a lot of experience,” John Belton, the first Black district attorney of Union Parish, said of his decision to hire Holland for the Greene case. “Hugo is one of the top prosecutor­s in the state and has a history of seeking justice — regardless of politics and regardless of race.”

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