Nearly two years after a U.S. Army veteran died in police custody, a Florida circuit judge recently agreed to release the surveillance videos of the man’s death. Although the State Attorney’s Office found the use of force “reasonable and justifiable,” the sheriff’s office refused to release the videos because they could endanger the safety of deputies and inmates at the jail.
On December 9, 2018, West Melbourne police officers arrested Gregory Edwards, a decorated former U.S. Army medic, for allegedly assaulting a charity worker. Edwards’ wife informed the arresting officers that her husband was suffering from another psychotic episode due to his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In the newly released surveillance video, Edwards was transported to the Brevard County Jail Complex in Sharpes, Florida, and began the booking process without appearing to be resistant. Left alone in a cell for approximately 30 minutes, Edwards seemed to grow more agitated and anxious until BCSO Cpl. Brian Otto opened his cell door to finish booking him.
Exiting his cell, Edwards turned toward the wrong direction when Cpl. Otto placed his left hand on the arrestee’s shoulder to guide him the other way. Attempting to shrug Otto’s hand off his right shoulder, Edwards cocked his left fist back in a threatening manner but did not swing until Otto attempted a leg sweep.
As Otto tried to sweep Edwards’ legs, Edwards swung a fist at Otto’s head and missed. After both men fell to the floor, several other officers assisted Otto in striking Edwards and preventing him from getting off the ground.
After pepper-spraying Edwards directly in the face, Otto rose to his feet and struck him in the torse a few times before Deputy Allison Blazewicz fired her Taser into Edwards’ lower back. The taser records six trigger pulls, totaling 49 seconds over 1 minute and 33 seconds. The taser darts, or barbs, were lodged into Edwards’ lower back and left there.
No longer resisting, Edwards complied as the deputies strapped him into a restraint chair and placed a spit hood over his head. At no point did the officers attempt to wipe off the pepper spray from Edwards’ face before placing the spit hood on him.
Locked alone in another cell, Edwards could be seen struggling in his restraint chair and appearing to have difficulty breathing through the spit hood. Although Nurse Debora Nadeau approached Edwards’ cell door and observed him through the window for a few seconds, no medical personnel entered his cell to monitor his breathing and blood circulation until he appeared much weaker and nearly motionless a few minutes later.
Edwards was transported to Rockledge Regional Medical Center where he was placed on life support and pronounced dead the next day. The medical examiner ruled his death an accident caused by excited delirium and complications.
In July 2019, the State Attorney’s Office found that the use of force against Edwards was “entirely reasonable and justifiable.” But according to the video of Edwards’ death, the Army veteran required medical attention and was neglected by the BCSO staff until he was clearly struggling to breathe.
Although Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey refused to release the videos of Edwards’ death to the public, Florida Today filed a lawsuit against his office. On Friday, Brevard County Circuit Judge David Dugan signed off on an agreement between the newspaper and the sheriff’s office to release the footage in order to avoid the lawsuit.
Despite the fact that Edwards did appear to resist, he did not deserve to die due to lack of medical attention after the incident. Currently, no criminal charges have been filed against any staff members of the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office for Edwards’ death in custody.