BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Days before a scheduled civil trial pitting Florida Today against the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office over the release of the Gregory Edwards jail video, Circuit Judge David Dugan continued the case while pushing both sides toward resolving the matter, reports News 6 partner Florida Today.
“Plaintiffs are not ready for trial. Defense is not ready for trial. There are limitations in place. You two are so close to a resolution,” Dugan said near the end of the two-hour online hearing. “I don’t want to do anything to take the impetus of that away.”
Dugan ordered both sides' legal teams to have by 5 p.m. Wednesday redacted versions of the raw jail footage that balanced the sheriff’s security concerns with the public’s right to know, and then to meet for a settlement conference on Friday. In delaying the trial, Dugan said he hoped that both sides could come to an agreement.
Gregory Edwards, a U.S. combat veteran, died Dec. 10, 2018, while in the custody of the sheriff’s office. He was arrested a day earlier by West Melbourne police outside a retail store for allegedly assaulting a charity worker. His wife, Kathleen, told arresting officers her husband was a combat veteran suffering from a PTSD episode.
Edwards then resisted being booked into the Brevard County Jail Complex in Sharpes, leading to an altercation with at least seven deputies. Edwards was punched, kneed, tased, pepper-sprayed and then strapped in a restraint chair with a spit hood over his head and pepper spray still on his face. Paramedics were called after deputies later found him unresponsive in his cell. He died the next day at a local hospital.
Sheriff Wayne Ivey refused FLORIDA TODAY’s request for the jail video of the incident citing security exemptions to the state’s public records law, saying the safety of deputies and the jail was at stake if the video were to be made public. In July, FLORIDA TODAY filed a lawsuit for the video’s release.
“There is an extremely compelling need for the public to know. There are very compelling issues,” Dugan said, adding that the sheriff’s security concerns were among them.
“I will be available all week, anytime, to assist in working through any potential hangups there may be,” Dugan said.
Should the settlement conference scheduled for next Friday fail to reach an agreement, Dugan said the trial would resume on Nov. 16.
Attorney Jessica Travis, representing FLORIDA TODAY, accused the sheriff’s office of dragging its feet.
“The injustice in this case is delaying this case,” she said. “The public is crying out for transparency. This is not a new discussion. They’ve known for a long time we would have resolved the case with a redacted video.”
Laura Moody, representing the sheriff’s office, said the sheriff was open to an agreement but she stopped short of promising that he would sign off on releasing the redacted video.
“I don’t have a good feel for where the sheriff is coming from,” Dugan said. “If he’s taking the position that it’s not going to be released under any circumstance then we’re wasting our time.”
Later in the hearing, Dugan asked the parties involved to make sure “decision-makers” would be present at the settlement conference.
Ivey’s refusal to release the video and the subsequent lawsuit is the latest friction in FLORIDA TODAY’S relationship with the sheriff.