BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Drivers in Brevard County may have noticed billboards around town with the name Gregory Edwards.
Edwards was a combat army veteran who died while in law enforcement custody in December 2018.
Nearly two years later, there are still questions about his death and a legal battle is brewing to find out more about how he died.
That’s why Don Smith is leading the charge in placing the billboards around the county. There are six of them describing Edwards as military hero.
“I’ve lived in Brevard for eight years. I pay attention to the news and I just learned about this three months ago,” Smith said.
Smith is a 20-year retired Navy Special Ops veteran.
He never met Edwards, but said the community needs to know that Edwards served his country, and also know how he died in this country.
“He was receiving help from the VA, but he didn’t get the help he needed when he needed it most,” Smith said.
In December 2018, West Melbourne police arrested Edwards in the parking lot of a Walmart after he allegedly jumped into a box truck and assaulted a charity worker.
Edwards' wife was with him and told officers he was a veteran who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. An officer’s body camera captured her words.
“He’s going through a psychotic episode,” she said. “He has PTSD and I was going to take him to the VA tomorrow."
The information was passed along to the other officers.
“He is former military,” one officer is heard saying to another. “He’s got diagnosed PTSD issues.”
Jail booking center
But when Edwards made it to the Brevard County jail, the situation unraveled.
While being booked, he got into a fight with at least seven corrections officers who beat, pepper-sprayed and used a stun gun on him, according to reports.
He was then handcuffed and placed in a restraint chair with a “spit mask” over his face, according to reports.
Shortly afterward Edwards was unresponsive.
“All I can think is he didn’t think he was in jail,” Smith said. “I believe he thought he was captured and in a state of battle."
Smith, who also suffers from mild PTSD, said he can’t have his back to doors and doesn’t like being in crowds.
Smith believes a lack of training and understanding about how to handle people with PTSD led to Edwards' death.
“When you’re dealing with someone with PTSD, they should have a counselor or somebody who is experienced in this and can talk to the person and deescalate the situation,” Smith said.
The Medical Examiner ruled Edwards' death an “accident” due to “excited delirium and complications,” according to the autopsy report.
In 2019, State Attorney Phil Archer found the deputies use of force against Edwards was “reasonable and justifiable,” according to a disposition letter from the office.
Yet Sheriff Wayne Ivey has not released the video from inside the jail.
“I think it should be released,” Smith said. “Releasing the video would give us the opportunity to see and understand what was done right, what was done wrong, how can we make this better,” Smith said.
Many people still have doubts about what happened, so Smith wants these billboards to honor Edwards and keep his name in the public’s mind.
“We need to improve what we’re doing to take care of people with PTSD,” Smith said.
Our news partners at Florida Today are suing the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office to have the video released to the public. A court date is scheduled for Oct. 27.