West Melbourne officer receives threats after edited arrest video goes viral, memo says

Gregory Edwards died after 2018 arrest

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – A heavily-edited viral video depicting the arrest of Gregory Edwards in December 2018, and his death a day later in a hospital, has created a false impression that the arresting officer killed him, leading to death threats against the officer, according to a memo Wednesday from the city of West Melbourne.

The video released last week on social media by activists and posted on Facebook by his widow, Kathleen Edwards, shows a West Melbourne officer lying atop the 38-year-old combat veteran, holding his head down on the ground with his arm across the back of Edwards’ neck, attempting to keep him subdued, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.

It was December 9, 2018, and Edwards, a former combat medic, was having what his wife described at the time as a post-traumatic stress disorder episode and had assaulted a charity worker. The West Melbourne Police Department was the arresting agency. Hours later, Edwards was found in a jail cell unresponsive after a confrontation with corrections deputies in the Brevard County Jail.

[READ: Medical examiner doubts veteran’s death in Brevard jail was an accident | Brevard inmate dies after apparent medical episode during booking]

The video then jumps from the arrest to the hospital bedside the next day where a brain dead Edwards was taken off life support. The video has since been shared on social media multiple times, including by social commentator and radio host D.L. Hughley on his Instagram page, garnering nearly 500,000 views.

"The video makes it appear that Mr. Edwards’ death was the direct result of his arrest and restraint by West Melbourne police officers.That is not the case," said the memo by West Melbourne's City Attorney, Morris Richardson. "As Mrs. Edwards’ attorney would write in March 2019, '[i]t is clear that an otherwise healthy [Gregory Edwards] walked into the Jail and, in a very short time, suffered an anoxic brain injury that lead to his death,'” the memo added.

Richardson sent the memo to city officials to address what he called “misinformation being spread on social media”, which he said, “has provoked threats to a West Melbourne officer and his family.” No examples were provided.

A still image from surveillance video of Gregory Lloyd Edwards as he is transported in the back of a police car (Photo: West Melbourne Police Department)

Richardson said West Melbourne police officers had arrested Edwards, gathered information about his combat veteran status and history of PTSD, before walking him into the county jail alive and well.

Within two hours, Edwards would be rushed to Rockledge Regional Medical Center where he would be declared dead the following day.

The Brevard County medical examiner ruled the manner of death an accident and the state attorney in 2019 cleared the jail deputies of any criminal wrongdoing.

The misplaced perception that the West Melbourne police — which brought Edwards to the jail — is responsible for his death could bolster activists’ calls for the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail, to release a video of the altercation between Edwards and seven corrections deputies.

A video of the confrontation at the jail has been at the center of recent demonstrations in Brevard County with activists and news organizations demanding its release.

[RELATED: Corrections officers cleared of wrongdoing in Brevard inmate’s death | Veterans, civil rights groups demand investigation of Brevard inmate’s death]

Both the State Attorney’s Office and the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office have declined to release the video of the jail confrontation, citing an exemption to the Public Records Act covering surveillance and video recordings. The state attorney’s office has said that the sheriff’s office can use its discretion to release the video, however, Sheriff Wayne Ivey said Tuesday in a news conference that he will not.

“The state stature allows me not to and I’m not going to. I’m not going to put the men and women that work in that jail, at risk, I’m not going to put the security of that jail at risk when a very thorough investigation was done and on top of that, the state attorney himself has seen that video and used it as part of his decision in saying there was no wrongdoing on behalf of the deputies,” Ivey said.

The edited social media video began circulating last week, not long after a June 1 rally that drew nearly 200 people to the Walmart on Palm Bay Road. It was the same Walmart where Edwards was arrested.

Kathleen Edwards and several community leaders have called for the jail video to be made public or at least shown to family members. FLORIDA TODAY and other news organizations have also requested to see the video.

On Thursday, the State Attorney’s Office released this statement in response to a public records request for the video:

In the interest of transparency, we are publishing our response to Florida Today’s most recent request for a statement, regarding demands to release the jail security video in the Gregory Lloyd Edwards investigation.

On July 1, 2019, State Attorney Phil Archer announced the result of an exhaustive review into the use of force by Brevard County corrections deputies against Gregory Lloyd Edwards during his processing at the jail complex in December of 2018. Based on that review, the use of force was deemed justifiable under Chapter 776, Florida Statutes.

A redacted copy of the complete investigative file used by our office to reach that determination, was made available immediately and at no cost to every media outlet requesting it, including Florida Today newspaper. A redaction notice was provided indicating that the security video from within the Brevard County Jail had been exempted from public record by the Sheriff’s Office, based on the provisions of FS.119.071(3), and 281.301 as security system information.

Florida Today, along with other media outlets have repeatedly requested that our office release the jail security video, despite the potential security risk cited by the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office. They argue that previously released records, along with publicly available video of a television program filmed in the jail months prior to this incident, should negate any concerns associated with revealing security measures in the video. In each instance we have declined the requests and directed them to the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office citing the following reasons.

Our office maintains the position that all security system video provided as part of any criminal investigation or review, is exempt from public record under the provisions of FS.119.071(3), 281.301. The basis for that position is that security system recordings are created or received by law enforcement from a variety of public and private sources. They are then provided to our office for review and use as required.

It is our belief that we are not able to accurately assess these recordings for potentially sensitive or damaging security information, and therefore claim the exemption from public record in every instance. We firmly believe that the decision to release these recordings should fall to the owners, or original provider of the materials.

In order to reverse our position and release the security recording, we would have to be convinced that there is no potential for exposing damaging or sensitive security system information by doing so. To the contrary, the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office has determined that the security information within the recording should be exempt from public record.

As a result, releasing the video could potentially compromise the safety and security of both the staff of the Brevard County jail, and the inmates within that facility. Certainly, there are those who would seek to do harm to both groups, if given the opportunity to do so.

The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office has clearly identified exemptions for the records provided and specifically the security video. Further, video previously recorded or released may or may not depict security information in place at the time the video in the Edwards inquiry was recorded. Again, the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office is in the best if not the only position to make that determination.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have informed Florida Today and other media outlets, that any person or organization can move to have the Court conduct a hearing and potentially order the release of the video as a public record. We find it disappointing that Florida Today has never published our complete reasoning for honoring the security exemption of the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office or explained why they have not sought to obtain the video by petitioning the Court to order its release.