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A Combat Veteran With PTSD Died While In Police Custody, And This Florida Sheriff's Office Won't Release The Tapes

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Combat Veteran With PTSD Died While In Police Custody, And This Florida Sheriff's Office Won't Relea...
USAToday

38-year-old former army medic Gregory Edwards was arrested on December 9 of 2018, outside of a Walmart in Palm Bay, Florida. The next day, he was dead. The official Brevard County Sheriff’s Office statement on Mr. Edwards’s death, which occurred while Mr. Edwards was still in police custody, said he suffered a “medical emergency.”

What that statement failed to mention is that while in police custody, police officers beat Gregory Edwards in an effort to subdue him after an altercation that occurred when he failed to comply with directions to move toward booking and fingerprinting. As many as seven officers kicked and punched Mr. Edwards, pepper sprayed him, tased him, covered his head with a spit hood, restrained him in a chair, and locked him in a room by himself.

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About twenty minutes later, an officer looked through the cloudy window of the room where Edwards was restrained and noticed he didn’t “look right.” Officers entered and removed the hood and wiped the mace from Edwards’s face (it is supposed to be wiped off immediately once the subject is subdued) and found Edwards unresponsive. They called 911. Paramedics arrived and transported him to the hospital, where he was removed from life support the next evening.

Here’s the critical piece you don’t know yet: Gregory Edwards suffered from PTSD and was very likely in the middle of a PTSD-related psychotic break when he was arrested. His nine-months pregnant wife, Kathleen Edwards, informed the arresting officers of this while they were still at Walmart. Edwards had suddenly leapt into the back of a truck that was loaded with donations meant for a Christmas charity drive and then had an altercation with one of the volunteers.

Mrs. Edwards told officers on the scene that her husband had been acting erratically, showing signs of a potential psychotic break. This was something she’d experienced before with her husband around the holidays—a common trigger for many, especially veterans, who suffer from PTSD.

In fact, in 2017 Gregory Edwards had received treatment for PTSD-attributed psychosis under the Baker Act — a Florida law that allows the loved ones of people who are impaired by mental illness to authorize emergency psychological treatment and detention. Leading up to the 2017 incident, he had experienced paranoid thoughts, hyper-vigilance and psychosis, and had even taken his infant daughter to the emergency room, convinced she had been pepper-sprayed. In the 2018 incident that led to Mr. Edwards’s death, Mrs. Edwards said she was afraid to leave him alone at home because she worried he might harm himself.

Gregory Edwards, a decorated U.S. Army combat veteran, was almost positively suffering a severe mental health episode. His wife gave this information to police. And yet, going against protocol, at no time did anyone give Mr. Edwards a medical or psychological evaluation. The best thing for him given the extenuating circumstances would very likely have been to admit him to the local in-patient mental health facility. Instead, police took a severely mentally unwell veteran to jail.

Surveillance cameras recorded the altercation inside the jail, but the Brevard County Sheriff’s office as well as the state attorney’s office declines to release those tapes. The autopsy cited cause of death as “excited delirium and complications” due to “hyperactive and violent state with subsequent restraint,” and manner of death was ruled to be an accident.

Dr. Stephen J. Nelson, the chief medical examiner for Florida’s 10th Medical Examiner’s District and the chair of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Medical Examiners Commission, questions these findings. Upon review of that autopsy, which was relied upon heavily to relieve the Brevard County Sheriff’s office of culpability in Gregory Edwards’s death, Dr. Nelson said the medical examiner didn’t determine exactly what killed Edwards. In an October 2019 interview with Click Orlando, Dr. Nelson said, “The conclusions, to me, from the autopsy are not supported by the autopsy.”

The other infuriating thing about this incident is that the Brevard County Sheriff, Wayne Ivey, decided back in 2017 that he would not permit third parties such as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct investigations of shootings or other incidents involving officers on his force. This guy demands to be the authority on his own conduct, folks, and no one is supposed to question that. I mean, what could possibly go wrong with a police force that answers only to itself and has zero third-party accountability or oversight?

A few other fun facts about Sheriff Ivey: He thinks everyone should carry a firearm. His department is the only county in Florida that permits the use of a “vascular neck restraint” to subdue a subject. He runs a popular video segment called “Wheel of Fugitive” where he spins a “Wheel of Fortune” type wheel with the faces of wanted folks plastered to it, and whichever face it lands on becomes a community target for apprehension. Good, wholesome fun! He proudly labels himself “the most politically incorrect” sheriff in the country. And he’s run unopposed for the last three elections.

Gregory Edwards needed to be taken to a mental health facility, not jail. His wife informed the arresting officers of his mental state, and no one followed up on that information. And now that her husband died a violent death while in custody of officers who should have cared better for him given his sacrifice to our country, we are supposed to simply accept the results of these biased internal “investigations”?

In light of the uprising following the horrific murder of George Floyd, Gregory Edwards’s case is receiving renewed attention. The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office has received a barrage of requests from community leaders asking for the video from the jail, in particular from Florida Today, one of the area’s local news outlets. Ivey’s response is to accuse Florida Today of “inciting civil unrest.” I recommend clicking through to read the Sheriff’s statement—his overuse of exclamation points and his inexplicable mention of the church reveals almost as much about him as the fact that he thinks it’s reasonable for the public to accept a Sheriff’s Office who outright refuses to be investigated by any neutral third party.

Gregory Edwards’s wife Kathleen continues her pleas on social media using the hashtag #justice4gregory. She still has not been allowed to see the surveillance footage of the incident that led to her husband’s death.

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