BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – The family of Gregory Edwards filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking punitive damages against the West Melbourne police officers who arrested the combat veteran leading up to his death in the Brevard County Jail.
The City of West Melbourne is also listed as a defendant in the civil suit.
Margarita Rodriguez-Bonilla is listed as the successor and personal representative of Edwards’ estate, according to court documents. She is being represented by notable civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who previously represented the family of George Floyd and Trayvon Martin.
Edwards, a U.S. Army combat veteran, died Dec. 10, 2018, while in the custody of the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office. Edwards 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 suffering from PTSD.
The complaint filed alleges West Melbourne officers Michael Perez, Jacob Mathis and Kevin Krukoski did not act in accordance with department policies and training and that the three failed to communicate to jailers all of the information they knew about Edwards, including his mental illness. The lawsuit lists Edwards’ episode as a serious medical emergency requiring immediate treatment that he did not receive under the care of authorities.
Court documents mention that officers had the opportunity to utilize the Baker Act, which would have allowed authorities to take Edwards into temporary custody with the intent to provide emergency mental health services.
Rodriguez-Bonilla’s team of attorneys added that the officers’ failure to identify a medical emergency led them to transfer the combat veteran from their care to jail personnel which eventually led to Edwards’ untimely death.
Edwards later got into a confrontation with deputies while at the Brevard County Jail. Video from the jail shows after Edwards’ initial confrontation with a law enforcement officer, as many as seven deputies got involved in trying to subdue Edwards. In the video, he becomes visible again as deputies are strapping him into a restraint chair and placing a spit hood over his head.
He was later found unresponsive in a holding cell and died at a local hospital the next day, records show. His death was ruled accidental as a result of excited delirium.
In July 2019, the state attorney’s office determined that the deputies involved in the confrontation acted within reason.
A medical examiner wrote in an autopsy report that Edwards was pepper-sprayed, shocked with a stun gun and handcuffed, then put in a restraint chair and a spit hood, as seen on video.
Attorneys for Rodriguez-Bonilla is saying due to Edwards’ manner of death, officers violated the Constitution’s 14th Amendment by depriving Edwards of his right to life and equal protection under the law. The lawsuit states Edward’s survivor’s rights guaranteed under Florida law. The suit is requesting a trial by jury.