Days before his own death, Louisiana Master Trooper Chris Hollingsworth entered a secure room deep inside state police headquarters, swore an oath and told investigators about the night he was heldand hit him repeatedly in the head with a flashlight.
Gone was the boast of Hollingsworth’s earlier boast –— that he punched “the ever-living F–” out of the man on a rural roadside in northeast Louisiana before his death in 2019.
Instead, during a two-hour interrogation, Hollingsworth meekly presented himself as the victim of the violent arrest and said he feared for his life even as graphic footage played over and over again of white soldiers swarming around Greene’s car after a high-speed chase and shocking him with stun guns, slapped his face and pulled his ankle cuffs while he wailed, “I’m your brother! I’m afraid! I’m afraid!”
“I was scared,” Hollingsworth said in the never-before-released taped interview obtained by The Associated Press. “He could have done anything once my grip was off him – and that’s why I hit him.”
Detectives didn’t believe it, describing the repeated flashlight bangs on Greene’s head as unwarranted while peppering the 46-year-old veteran soldier with questions. Why did Hollingsworth turn off his bodycam video recorder? Why did he shake Greene with his stun gun before the driver could even get out of his car? Why would he use excessive force on an unarmed man who offered little resistance?
Referring to the soldiers’ initial report, which attributed Greene’s death to injuries sustained in a car accident and fueled allegations of a cover-up, Hollingsworth said he did not see any such injuries himself, but added, “I’m not a doctor.”
Nearly three years after Greene’s death on May 10, 2019, without anyone being criminally charged, Hollingsworth’s September 2020 Internal Affairs interview stands as a defiant, haunting voice from the grave.
Hollingsworth, widely believed to be the most guilty of the half-dozen officers involved, is failing justice because he died in a high-speed, single-vehicle accident just six days after questioning, hours after he was told he it would be dismissed for his role in Greene’s arrest.
Although his death was ruled an accident, Hollingsworth’s early-morning off-duty crash into a freeway guardrail in Monroe sparked widespread speculation that the officer had taken his own life. Hollingsworth was sober, didn’t wear a seat belt, and was a state police driving instructor who traveled a freeway he’d patrolled for decades. Accident reconstruction experts who reviewed case reports for the AP agreed that the circumstances were suspicious and the local police investigation inadequate.
“It’s definitely consistent with a suicide, but I don’t have enough information to say he didn’t fall asleep,” said Jonathan Cherney, a California-based accident reconstruction specialist. “But I’ll tell you what, you have a hard time falling asleep when you’re going 100 miles an hour.”
Scott Wolleson, the attorney who accompanied Hollingsworth to the interview and is now representing his widow in a civil lawsuit brought by Greene’s family, declined to comment.
Intentional or not, Hollingsworth’s death has complicated ongoing federal and state investigations and was particularly painful for Greene’s mother, Mona Hardin, who says it robbed her of any hope of full justice while the soldier, despite his wrongdoing, is buried with full honors could.
“It hurts me deeply that Hollingsworth isn’t here,” Hardin told the AP. “He was front and center and they gave him all the bells and whistles at his funeral. …You overlooked what he did, what he confessed to.”
State police were so concerned about “unruly groups” and a “major disruption” at Hollingsworth’s funeral, according to AP’s operational plans, that they kept the services’ location secret and deployed two “counter-snipers” and a SWAT team to monitor the sea of blue Uniforms piling up in a church in West Monroe.
The ruthless security was put in place at a time when the public hadn’t seen the body camera footage of Greene’s arrest, but the state police chiefs who coordinated his funeral had.
On this day, Lt. John Clary, the senior officer at the scene of Greene’s death, who remains under state scrutiny for allegedly withholding his own body camera footage from detectives.
AP last year obtained and released the graphic footage that officials at Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards had refused to release for more than two years. But even before that, Hollingsworth made himself the focus of the Greene investigation through his own words on the night of the arrest, which he dismissed to detectives as “inappropriate cop talk.”
“I punched the ever-living F… out of him, choked him and tried everything else to get him under control,” Hollingsworth told a colleague in a phone conversation captured with his body camera microphone. “All of a sudden he just went limp. … I thought he was dead.”
Greene died before his ambulance reached the hospital. Hollingsworth was photographed there with Greene’s blood stained on his blue uniform and brass badge.
The governor later asked police commanders to investigate Hollingsworth’s role in the fatal arrest. Edward’s top attorney Matthew Block told AP the then chief of state police informed him when the decision to fire Hollingsworth was finally made. Edwards has since labeled the actions of the soldiers in Greene’s arrest as criminal and racist.
When asked if he felt responsible for the public’s loss of confidence in the state police late last year, a spokesman for Edwards told the AP: “The police officers on the ground – particularly Soldier Hollingsworth – are responsible for what happened on the night of Mr .Greene’s death happened. Period.”
Federal prosecutors have been considering for months whether to charge the other soldiers, including Kory York, who remains on duty after pulling Greene face down by his ankle cuffs. The FBI is also investigating whether state police officers partially obstructed justice by turning away detectives who were pushing for criminal charges. A supervisor recently told a state Legislative Committee investigating the case that his bosses had instructed him not to give prosecutors bodycam footage of Greene’s arrest.
That jibed with an AP investigation last year that found Greene’s was among at least a dozen instances over the past decade of state police officers or their bosses ignoring or concealing evidence of beatings, deflecting blame and impeding efforts , eradicating wrongdoing.
Hollingsworth himself seemed to recognize his legal gamble and refused to testify to the detectives conducting the criminal investigation in the days after Greene’s death.
But he was forced – 496 days later – to cooperate in an internal affairs investigation focused on whether he had violated state police policy. This investigation could not be used to charge Hollingsworth but would determine if he retained his badge.
Hollingsworth’s story developed significantly during the interview. He initially told detectives he hit Greene with “a closed fist.” He then claimed he couldn’t remember hitting him with an object.
After investigators eventually played the video and pointed out Hollingsworth’s flashlight, he admitted to hitting Greene with it and even used his water bottle to demonstrate swinging, rounded edge down.
Detectives then showed Hollingsworth’s autopsy photos and asked him to describe multiple cuts on Greene’s head.
“You’re like a little crescent moon,” Hollingsworth said.
“You don’t think your flashlight caused those cuts?”
“It could have been,” said the police officer.
A verified autopsy commissioned by the FBI last year dismissed the crash theory, attributing Greene’s death to “physical combat,” soldiers repeatedly drugging him, hitting him on the head, holding him for long periods, and Greene’s use of cocaine.
When asked to justify his use of force, Hollingsworth repeatedly exaggerated Greene’s threat and resistance.
“I was afraid that he was a lot taller than me and a lot stronger,” he said. “He had already prevented two police officers from handcuffing him and I was afraid at the time that he would control me or headbutt me.”
Race was not discussed in the interrogation, but Hollingsworth spoke out on the subject in an essay at the Louisiana State Police Training Academy decades earlier, writing: “White police officers must prove in every complaint and in every legal proceeding that they are not racist blacks.” “
“Today the first concern is whether the officer is white and the suspect is black. … Race is the problem, not the crime.”