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FDLE overview says Brevard investigation into Gregory Edwards death was ‘complete and thorough’

Edwards died after confrontation at Brevard County Jail

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – A month-long Florida Department of Law Enforcement review of the Brevard County Sheriff’s in-house investigation into the death of combat veteran Gregory Lloyd Edwards in 2018 was “complete and thorough,” the agency concluded this week.

Edwards, a former Army combat medic diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, was arrested on Dec. 9, 2018, after assaulting charity workers outside a West Melbourne Walmart during what his wife described as a PTSD-related episode, News 6 partner Florida Today reports.

He then resisted being booked at the Brevard County Jail and ended up in a fight with a deputy. Edwards landed on top of the deputy, who suffered a concussion when his head hit the ground, prompting six more deputies to join in to secure Edwards.

The fight ended, according to a sheriff’s office investigation, with Edwards being punched, kneed, pepper-sprayed, tased and strapped into a restraint chair with a spit hood placed over his head. He was then wheeled into a holding cell and left unattended for almost 16 minutes before he was found unresponsive and barely breathing. He died the next day at the Rockledge Regional Medical Center.

Sheriff Wayne Ivey invited the FDLE to review the investigation last month in the face of growing demands from community leaders for answers in the Edwards case, which in turn were sparked by a desire for greater police accountability after the homicide of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on May 25.

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

Last year, State Attorney Phil Archer, using the sheriff’s department’s own investigative findings, found the deputies use of force against Edwards was justified, effectively clearing them of wrongdoing and closing the criminal investigation. 

The FDLE special agent tasked with looking over the files, reviewing the interviews, medical records, and videos in the violent jail confrontation with deputies that resulted in Edwards dying a day later, concluded the case did not warrant any further criminal investigation. 

As a result of this review the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has concluded that the investigation completed by the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office is complete and thorough,” FDLE Special Agent in Charge Lee Massie wrote to Ivey.

FDLE concluded "no further criminal investigation is necessary."

“We found that their investigation was thorough. What we did wasn’t an investigation but just a review of (the sheriff’s) investigation,” FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger told FLORIDA TODAY on Sunday.

“We didn’t conduct any interviews, we just looked at the interviews they had done, the videos, the reports,” she said.

Margarita Bonilla (left), the mother-in-law of Gregory Edwards, holds a sign at a demonstration in Melbourne on Thursday night. (Photo: MALCOLM DENEMARK/FLORIDA TODAY)
Margarita Bonilla (left), the mother-in-law of Gregory Edwards, holds a sign at a demonstration in Melbourne on Thursday night. (Photo: MALCOLM DENEMARK/FLORIDA TODAY)

On Sunday, Ivey, who was once FDLE's resident agent-in-charge in Brevard County and who recently compared Edwards' resistance at the jail to "a caged animal," lauded the state law enforcement agency's conclusion. 

“Although the death of Mr. Edwards was extremely tragic, and our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Edwards family, the independent investigation by the Brevard County Medical Examiner determined the death was caused by Excited Delirium Syndrome, which was confirmed by the Florida Medical Examiners Panel,” Ivey said. “FDLE has now concluded that the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office conducted a thorough and complete investigation.”

Ivey said both the state Medical Examiners Panel and FDLE conclusions “were reached after comprehensive investigations and complete reviews of all information to include another trained forensic pathologist and by highly qualified members of the Medical Examiners’ Panel.”

“Finally, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement conducted an independent investigative overview, concluding the investigation to be thorough and the findings provided to the State Attorney to be complete. In each of the independent investigations, the participants provided extreme effort and expertise to ensure a thorough and factual finding was presented for consideration.”

Contrary to the sheriff’s assertion, however, the MEC panel did not “confirm” an excited delirium diagnosis. The panel found that some observations and findings by the Brevard medical examiner “mostly” supported the diagnosis, but there were unexplained and unaddressed disconnects, including that Edwards’ heart was restarted by CPR — something that the panel noted does not happen in excited delirium cases.

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

Edwards also suffered brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen which is also not consistent with excited delirium. The panel did not address these issues further other than pointing them out in their conclusions.

After Edwards had been strapped in the restraint chair, deputies placed a spit hood, a mesh draw-string bag, over Edwards' head with the pepper spray still on his face. That unwashed mask — considered a "significant" piece of evidence by the FDLE agent — was later tossed away by an inmate, at the direction of deputies. 

"The only piece of physical evidence that BCSO failed to collect was the 'spit mask,'" Special Agent Daniel Warren, supervisor of the Orlando Regional Operations Center, noted in the review. 

"However, an identical 'spit mask' was provided to the medical examiner to aid in determining the cause and manner of Edwards' death. This fact does not change my opinion that the investigation was thorough and complete," Warren added. 

Kathleen Edwards, the widow, said Sunday that she had not been contacted by FDLE about the conclusion, which was sent to the sheriff on Friday. She is in talks with lawyers about a possible civil case against the sheriff's office. 

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)
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)

According to a memo from the FDLE that accompanied the review, the reviewers relied on jail video security footage that captured what happened that day from 19 different angles in the booking and medical areas of the jail.

Brevard demonstrators, local community leaders, journalists, lawyers and Edwards' widow all have been ramping up demands on the sheriff to release the jail security video that captured the violent confrontation on Dec. 9, 2018 between deputies and Edwards. Ivey has refused to release the surveillance video citing security concerns.

FLORIDA TODAY is suing the sheriff's office to force him to release the footage which Ivey has kept under strict control. The FDLE agent reviewed the video at the Brevard County Sheriff's Office, where the clips remain. 

[READ: Report: 1-year-old son of Gregory Edwards pronounced dead | Sheriff Ivey makes ‘uncomfortable’ surprise visit to the widow of Gregory Edwards]

The findings of FDLE's overview was not a surprise, said some community leaders who have been following the Edwards case. Protests over the case continue. Last month, during a community panel, community activist Leonard Ross even confronted the sheriff over the case, telling him to remove doubts about the case by releasing the video. The case has even crept into the sheriff's campaign. 

“Really, what this case needs is a new, independent investigation. What FDLE did was simply review, no actual witnesses were even interviewed for this overview,”  said Alton Edmond, Ivey’s challenger for the sheriff’s election and one of the organizers of a Cocoa rally that drew nearly 4,000 marchers.

“There needs to be a full and fair, independent investigation, probably a federal investigation, someone with the resources to come in and independently find out what happened to this veteran,” Edmond said.