BREVARD COUNTY – Perhaps the most important revelation of the newly released video taken at the Brevard County Jail on December 9, 2018 – the day Gregory Lloyd Edwards got into a fight with a slew of corrections deputies before he was found unresponsive in his cell, strapped in a chair with a mesh bag over his head – was not what Sheriff Wayne Ivey’s jail staff did, according to News 6 partner Florida Today. It’s what they did not do.
For almost 16 minutes, the surveillance video shows Edwards – a decorated former U.S. Army medic – all alone in holding cell #9, confined in a wheeled chair, taser darts lodged in back, his torso ever so slightly inclined, hands cuffed straight behind him, lap thrust forward, writhing and moving his mouth as if he were gasping for air.
And while he swiveled his head and contorted his face and body until he stopped moving altogether but for some twitches at 2:23 pm, the guards charged with closely monitoring him while he was in the restraint chair were focused on computer screens, paperwork, and each other, ignoring Edwards in his last conscious moments.
The video shows, in crisp color without audio, that once Edwards was restrained, jail staff failed to provide him with required medical attention. They did not follow policy that demanded “continuous” monitoring of him once he was strapped in the restraint chair, which can restrict breathing and circulation. A jail nurse can be seen during this time only once, peering at Edwards through a cell window for less than seven seconds. It amounts to a violation of a score of sheriff’s office policies about what deputies and staff are required to do after force is used to subdue an unruly inmate, like Edwards.
This is the first time that what transpired in the jail that day can be seen by people outside of law enforcement and the judiciary.
For almost two years, the contents of the jail video has been a subject of intense interest for the Edwards family, lawyers, journalists, veterans groups and, more recently, members of the public concerned about law enforcement accountability in the wake of the death in May of George Floyd in Minneapolis at police hands. People simply wanted to know what happened.
“All we want to know is was Mr. Edwards treated fair?” Leonard Ross, the former head of the Martin Luther King Jr. Coalition, and a longtime civil rights leader in Brevard, told Florida Today back in June.
Until now, Sheriff Wayne Ivey had been refusing to make the footage public because he said it would reveal jail security features, putting staff and inmates in danger. The Friday release follows a settlement that Sheriff Ivey agreed to in lieu of going to trial after Florida Today sued his office for the video.
A veteran of Kosovo and Iraq diagnosed with severe PTSD, Edwards was arrested on Dec. 9, 2018, after assaulting a charity worker in a Walmart parking lot during what his wife told police was a PTSD episode. The medical examiner ruled Edwards' death after his resistance and restraint at the jail an accident due to excited delirium with “complications from subsequent restraint.” Excited delirium is a controversial diagnosis that critics say is used to cover deaths caused by police.
Ivey’s comments about the video usually have been focused on the deputies' response to “a very violent individual,” and that the actions his officers took were in accordance with policy and reasonable and played no role in Edwards' demise.
Investigations by the sheriff’s office own agents, and reviews by the State Attorney’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement found deputies had not used excessive force. But an internal affairs probe reprimanded four officers for, among other things, failing to assign a deputy to monitor Edwards in the restraint chair, and allowing the spit hood that was used on Edwards — important evidence — to be thrown away by an inmate assigned to clean up what had become a crime scene.
Many of the investigations' and reviews' findings, as well the scope of the deputies' seeming indifference, are both contradicted and expanded upon by what’s on the video.
The video, which blurs out security features, tells its own story over the nearly two hours Edwards was in the jail until he was taken to a local hospital where he died the next day, on Dec. 10, 2018. It covers the time from when Edwards was dropped off at 1:09 p.m. by West Melbourne Police until when he leaves the complex on a gurney at 3:06 p.m.
Sheriff Ivey has described Edwards as a violent criminal who savagely resisted being booked, saying he only had himself to blame for his death, de-emphasizing Edwards' service to his country and his severe mental health issues. The men and women on duty that day responded as they were trained, Ivey has said.
“Nothing that the deputies did led to (Edwards') demise. The deputies simply controlled, a very violent individual who was violently out of control,” Ivey told WMMB’s Bill Mick Live last November.
But the sheriff’s own response-to-resistance policies that cover the tactics used by the deputies to control Edwards mandate a series of post-struggle follow-up actions for everything the guards did: There are medical checks and follow throughs required for the knee and fist strikes, for the pepper spray, for the taser, and for the restraint chair. Florida Today’s investigation of Edwards' experience at the jail found that Sheriff Ivey’s deputies violated at least 14 of their own policies about what needs to happen after force is employed.
Roy Bedard, a respected law enforcement expert employed by Florida Today during the court case against the sheriff, said while it is impossible to say whether the deputies' “callous disregard” for Edwards after he was subdued directly contributed to him becoming unresponsive and eventually dying, those policies are there for a reason.
“I don’t fault the officers for using force. I don’t fault them for the kind of force that they used. I don’t fault them for protecting themselves, for trying to secure an unruly inmate. What I fault them for is the post incident stuff, not doing what we know to do. We decontaminate when we contaminate people. We take probes out of people when we fire tasers out and we don’t let them sit there,” he said, referring to events shown on the video.
A slightly different story
In an Oct. 24, 2019, statement emailed to Florida Today in response to questions about possible policy violations, Sheriff Ivey said that Edwards displayed: “Approximately three hours and ten minutes of continuous unlawful, aggressive physical exertion in an attempt to attack, resist and defeat restraint efforts.” He was also including the time Edwards spent with West Melbourne police.
But the jail video tells a story that is not so straight forward. When Edwards first arrives at the jail, he is calm and appears to follow instructions. At times he seems dazed and confused but he wasn’t “combative” from the moment he stepped out of the West Melbourne police cruiser.
The video shows a compliant Edwards escorted into the jail by two deputies and a West Melbourne officer. He puts on his sandals, is changed into a jail issue orange jumpsuit and brought into an individual holding cell awaiting the rest of the booking process.
He begins doing push-ups and is provided a bag lunch moments later. Over the course of a half hour, Edwards seems to grow bored, teetering back and forth between seeming moments of irritation and calm. He begins talking to himself and staring blankly at a wall as if seeing something that’s not there. Eventually, he tries to get the attention of deputies, at first rapping on the cell window.
It is precisely when Edwards appears most agitated, after striking the window of his cell door with his fist and forearm that Cpl. Brian Otto decides to book Edwards by himself, with no back up. It is, in fact, the only time during Edwards short stay at the jail when he is attended to by only a single deputy. Even when Edwards is unresponsive and strapped to a restraint chair more than an hour later, he is escorted to the medical ward from the booking area by three deputies.
“Was it a bad decision for one officer to escort him out? Probably. Was it against policy? No. Was it illegal? No. Was it a bad decision? Probably, and Otto finds that out pretty quickly,” Bedard said.
Bedard doubts that Otto had been monitoring Edwards, so likely Otto had no idea that he was walking into a moment when Edwards was having what Bedard called “a psychotic break.”
Otto opens the cell door and hands Edwards a pair of jail issue flipflops, which Edwards lets fall to the floor and walks past. In his testimony to sheriff’s office investigators, Otto describes Edwards as “not processing” at that moment.
Otto then puts his left hand on Edwards' left shoulder to direct him to where he can be photographed and fingerprinted, but Edwards walks in the opposite direction. At first Edwards appears to comply, turning around and taking a few paces in the right direction as Otto’s hand continues to remain on his right shoulder.
The fight began how?
Sheriff Ivey told Bill Mick Live last year that Edwards attacked Otto “to the point of unconsciousness.”
But the sheriff’s two investigations – one by the Major Crimes Unit, and the other by the Staff Services Unit – have very different versions how the fight started. The FDLE review, requested by Ivey last summer, has a third.
The Major Crimes report said only that Edwards became uncooperative when Otto was escorting him to be formally booked when “Inmate Edwards and Cpl. Otto both began falling to the ground.” While falling, “Edwards punched Cpl. Otto with his left fist, which appeared to have struck Cpl. Otto in the head.” Otto hits his head on the ground and Edwards ends up on top of the deputy, it says.
The Staff Services account said Otto tried to direct Edwards to an area of the booking room with his hand on Edwards' shoulder when Edwards resisted and prepared to fight.
“Mr. Edwards (6′- 00” 256lbs) then attempts to pull away, swinging his left arm in what appears to be an attempt to punch Corporal Otto in the face. Both Corporal Otto and Mr. Edwards go to the floor. Corporal Otto lands on his back with his head hitting the concrete floor. Mr. Edwards lands on top of Corporal Otto in a position of dominance and begins violently striking Corporal Otto in the torso and face."
The FDLE review, released on July 17, said, “Edwards intentionally struck Cpl. Otto in the head when they fell to the ground,” adding that Edwards lands several blows on Otto “and put Cpl. Otto in a chokehold/headlock.”
Sheriff Ivey has repeatedly seized on characterizations drawn from these reports to paint a picture of a rampage by Edwards, quoting descriptions of Edwards in a June 9, 2020, news conference that he was fighting deputies like “a caged animal.”
But the video shows a very different story.
In the footage, Edwards appears visibly irritated at Otto’s hand on his shoulder directing him and he swings his left arm to shake it off. Edwards then coils, ready to strike Otto. He relaxes for a moment but then tenses again. At that moment, Otto, who has his left hand on Edwards' shoulder, prepares to take down Edwards with a leg sweep maneuver taught to deputies.
Otto succeeds in getting Edwards off balance, but when he tries to execute the takedown, he ends up bringing them both to the ground, possibly hitting his own head on the floor. A punch thrown by Edwards on the way down fails to connect.
Otto does not black out and manages to keep Edwards at bay, until another deputy, Field Training Officer Robert Wagner Jr., joins the fray with what looks like an attempt to tackle Edwards. Instead, Wagner appears to fall over Edwards, releasing Edwards' left arm and creating an opening for Edwards to land two powerful blows with his left forearm and back of his arm on Otto’s head. These are the only strikes Edwards seems to connect during the entire fight. Otto’s head then gets trapped under Edwards arm when another deputy, Sgt. Richard Zimmerman, tries to lock Edwards' left wrist. The move pins Otto’s neck under Edwards arm across the back of his neck, momentarily. There is no chokehold.
Eventually, Otto gets out from underneath Edwards, pepper sprays him, and lands several powerful blows of his own on Edwards' torso before, visibly dazed, he leaves the fray and walks off camera. Otto is later taken to the hospital and diagnosed with a concussion.
“Edwards did not punch the deputy (to start the fight), though it remains part of the official version of events,” Bedard wrote.
The fight continues and at its height involved nine deputies, including Deputy Allison Blazewicz using a taser. She fires 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.
Nearly five minutes into the struggle, a restraint chair is wheeled into view and four deputies lift a handcuffed Edwards off the ground into the chair. Edwards appears like a ragdoll at this moment, limp but very much alive.
Restraint and neglect
Per restraint chair protocol, a deputy controls Edwards' head as he is secured into the chair. Four to seven deputies assist the process. Edwards' hands are kept cuffed behind his back, a move which law enforcement expert Bedard told the court was “excessive.” Deputy Freddy Cedeno is handed a spit hood and, together with Sgt. Richard Zimmerman, puts it over Edwards' head, but the pepper spray is never removed from Edwards' face.
Bedard said the decision to apply the spit hood while Edwards was still contaminated was “particularly unsafe.”
Edwards does not appear to be spitting or resisting at all at this point. The BCSO’s investigation claims Edward continued to resist once he was in the chair, but this is not apparent in the video.
At no point does a nurse check the straps on Edwards as required by the sheriff’s policy to ensure breathing and circulation are not obstructed. Contrary to BCSO reports, booking room Nurse Debora Nadeau isn’t seen checking on Edwards in any way in the video.
Bedard, who as part of his review saw all camera angles unredacted, notes the following in his report to the court: “I have watched the video several times to the extent of the camera’s capabilities. Medical personnel do not appear to be monitoring the situation as claimed. They do not check the restraints, nor do they make any determination that Edwards had uncompromised breathing or circulation by inspecting the ERC straps.”
Ten minutes after Edwards was first placed in the chair, Deputy DeShawn Edward wheels the restraint chair with Edwards in it into holding cell #9. He is left there, the chair angled towards the door and the door is closed. It is 2:07 p.m.
Soon after Edwards appears to struggle, his mouth visibly agape through the fine mesh spit hood. His legs flexing against the restraints.
For much of the next 16 minutes only the silhouette of the inmate in the neighboring cell appears concerned with what is happening in cell #9 as Edwards' writhes and wiggles in the chair.
Edwards' movements continue seemingly unnoticed by BCSO staff but for the almost seven seconds when booking area nurse Debora Nadeau, accompanied by a deputy, glances at Edwards through the cell door window at 2:16 pm. According to her testimony he is “hollering” at that point.
After she leaves Edwards tilts his head back and to the side, his mouth open, while his legs flail against the restraints. His chest flexes against the straps, and he throws his head forward several times before falling back into the forced recline of the chair. Then, his struggle weakens. Within six minutes of Nurse Nadeau’s viewing he goes limp, save for a few twitches and spasms.
At 2:22 p.m. jail staff look through the window and signal others to come over. A minute later the cell is opened.
Lt. George Fayson, the second in command at the jail that day, takes the spit hood off Edwards' head and dabs Edwards' face with it before throwing it on the floor. (The hood, an important piece of evidence, is later thrown in the garbage.) FTO Wagner applies a sternum rub, which would make a healthy person jump in pain. Edwards does not respond.
Deputies begin to loosen Edwards' restraints and work to remove the taser barbs, but it is several minutes at 2:26 p.m. before Nurse Nadeau enters the cell, again does a sternum rub, checks his pulse and applies an oxygen mask, squeezing the air in the bag to force the flow.
Nadeau then leaves and returns with a pulse oximeter to examine Edwards vitals. According to her logs, entered an hour after the fact, Edwards had normal vitals. Yet after applying the device to Edwards finger she appears to struggle to take his pulse on the other wrist, holding it for a prolonged period and readjusting her grip.
A full 10 minutes pass from when the cell door is opened to when Edwards is wheeled out of booking to the medical ward. That trip takes two minutes.
In the medical ward, nurses try a sternum rub again and try to take his vitals, and this is the first time when a sense of urgency seems to take over. Edwards is removed from the restraint chair and placed on a backboard and CPR is initiated. It is 2:38 p.m. Brevard county fire rescue EMS arrive at 2:49 p.m. After nearly 20 minutes Edwards is taken out of the jail. According to records a pulse was restored prior to his arrival at Rockledge Regional Medical Center.
His prognosis upon arrival was deemed “extremely poor” by doctors. He was put on life support where he lingered, technically alive, for a day before being pronounced dead the following day.
Edwards never regained consciousness from when he was left alone, hooded and strapped in the restraint chair in holding cell #9.