BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Earlier this month, Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey announced that he had invited the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to review his agency’s homicide investigation of Gregory Lloyd Edwards who died after an altercation with multiple deputies at the Brevard County Jail, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
"It is important to note that agents are not re-investigating this case, we are going to do a complete and impartial review of the work already done by the Brevard County Sheriff's Office," said FDLE Special Agent in Charge Lee Massie as he appeared in Ivey's Facebook video announcement.
“We’ll be reviewing the investigative records and all video the sheriff’s office has on the case. We’ll be looking for accuracy and completeness in the investigation,” he said.
The FDLE review will be carried out by a special agent supervisor at the Orlando Regional Operations Center, with oversight by an assistant special agent in charge according to agency spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger.
It is unclear how long the now week-old review will take to complete. Plessinger said it depends on the volume of materials that need to be reviewed and what the FDLE learns from them.
But what exactly does a review entail and what will the FDLE be looking for when going over the sheriff's investigation that was wrapped up last year?
According to Plessinger, the agency does not have predetermined criteria when approaching a review.
“Every review is unique and should be treated as such,” she wrote in an email to FLORIDA TODAY. “They reexamine the information already gathered from the investigation. They look at investigative reports, videos, forensics and all evidence from the investigation.”
According to one former detective and nationally renowned law enforcement consultant, Ron Martinelli, this can mean questioning the very nature of the investigation, such as how evidence and information were gathered and reconciled, and how findings, including those by the medical examiner, were supported by the facts.
Martinelli, who specializes in use of force and in-custody death reviews, refrained from commenting directly on the case of Gregory Lloyd Edwards, but generally described his expectations for reviewing an investigation that involved specific uses of force such as pepper spray or a spit hood.
Edwards was a 38-year-old US Army combat medic diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder who died in hospital on Dec. 10, 2018, a day after an altercation with as many as seven deputies who punched, kneed, pepper sprayed, tased, strapped him into a restraint chair and put a spit hood on him, and then left him alone in a cell only to find him unresponsive some 16 minutes later. The spit hood, which resembles a fine mesh draw-string bag, was put over Edwards head with the pepper spray still on his face.
Brevard's Medical Examiner Dr. Sajid S. Qaiser ruled Edwards' death an "accident" caused by "excited delirium and complications" due to "hyperactive state and subsequent restraint."
An excited delirium diagnosis, Martinelli said, should be backed generally by evidence of a body temperature exceeding 103 degrees, an analysis of cryogenically preserved brain tissue by excited delirium expert Deborah Mash at the University of Miami, and evidence of an enlarged heart.
Dr. Stephen J Nelson, chairman of the Florida Medical Examiners Commission, upon reviewing the Edwards autopsy report questioned Qaiser's findings, saying he was not convinced the evidence supported the excited delirium diagnosis.
Martinelli said he would look to see if corrections officers were aware of a psychiatric diagnosis of a subject in their custody and what cues they had to react to.
"What verbal, physical and psychological cues were presenting that corrections officers could respond to?" he said.
Edwards medical history, including his PTSD diagnosis, were noted by West Melbourne Police at the time of his arrest.The information and Baker Act paperwork were completed by an arresting police officer and were delivered to the jail along with Edwards.
Jail staff and deputies who witnessed Edwards prior to the altercation testified to the sheriff’s investigation about Edwards’ erratic and confused behavior, including banging on the holding cell window and “acting out.”
On the application of pepper spray, Martinelli said an investigation should document what kind of pepper spray was used, from what kind of canister, how it was applied and what the duration of the application was.
Martinelli also said the application of the spit mask should be questioned in the following ways: “Was it departmentally approved? Is there a policy that deals with the application of the spit mask? What kind of spit mask was it? Was he periodically examined?”
Generally, both a spit mask and pepper spray inhibit breathing, Martinelli noted.
“Pepper spray also provokes sputum (spit) and mucus production. It’s going to be coated on the inside of the mask, so what did the mask look like? Was there a vomit response?” he said.
But beyond the specific use of force Martinelli said a review of a police investigation needs to look at general quality questions.
“The investigation needs to reconcile properly all the information,” he said.
“Was it an open investigation?” he asked, or “were the investigators trying to fit a predetermined narrative?”
“Investigators need to keep their eyes open and accept any possibility … and make no credibility determination until it’s supported by scientific facts and forensic evidence,” he said.
“I want to see what the nature of their work is,” he said. adding “I want to see how their questions are phrased
FLORIDA TODAY's review of the criminal investigation as well as the internal affairs investigation, which is not subject to FDLE review, found that deputies violated at least 14 Sheriff's Office policies in subduing Edwards, mainly those related to the need for medical care after all the various forms of force were used to restrain him.
The BCSO's staff services probe, the agency's equivalent of an internal affairs investigation, also revealed that the spit hood that was placed on Edwards' head was not put there because Edwards was actively spitting,but because correction deputies did not want to get his mucus from the pepper spray on themselves.
The probe also found that after the spit mask was removed — when deputies attended to an unresponsive Edwards — it was thrown out by an inmate at the direction of a corrections officer instead of being preserved as evidence.
Perhaps one of the most critical aspects of the review will be trying to match the story of the investigation to what appears in the jail video footage taken that day which the sheriff’s office has refused to make public, citing security concerns.
Sheriff Ivey last week, offered Edwards widow, Kathleen Edwards, a chance to view the footage along with another person. He continues to come under pressure from the media, defense lawyers, the public defender's office and community groups to make the video available to the public.
The FDLE agent in Orlando will have access to the footage, which will have to be compared against the events laid out in the report by the BCSO investigators.
“During the review, if we find any concerns, we’ll take those to the State Attorney and ask for guidance on how to proceed. Otherwise, once the review is complete, we’ll share our findings with Sheriff Ivey,” Plessinger said.
State Attorney Phil Archer's office last year cleared all deputies of criminal wrongdoing after reviewing the BCSO's investigative report and the findings of the Brevard medical examiner.
Kathleen Edwards appealed to the Governor's Office and the FDLE several times to re-investigate the case. In November, the FDLE opened a review of Edwards' complaint but quickly closed it, citing a lack of legal authority to intercede after a local law enforcement agency had already conducted its own investigation.
The legal difference this time around, according to FLDE spokeswoman Plessinger, is that the invitation was made by the Sheriff's Office, and that the agency is reviewing the case itself.
"FDLE has no authority to independently investigate a death unless we receive a request from the law enforcement official with jurisdiction (police chief or sheriff). A request from a private entity, attorney, or from the family of the decedent does not allow for FDLE to take over or open any independent investigation," Plessinger said in an email.
Once the review is completed it will become public record.