On Friday, Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey published the video, but only after settling with the newspaper after it sued for the footage in July amid national reckoning about the use of force by police. Throughout the country, concerns about a lack of transparency or accountability in cases like George Floyd’s and Breonna Taylor’s has put lesser-known, in-custody deaths like Edwards’s under greater scrutiny. The footage disclosure marks a significant milestone after a summer of protests trickled down to the shoreside town of Melbourne, Fla., where demonstrators demanded “release the video.”
The two-hour-long tape shows what led up to the moment Edwards, a decorated veteran who served in Kosovo and Iraq, was strapped in a chair for 16 minutes, as he seemed to struggle to breathe, his chest heaving and his restrained body convulsing. Although the video has no sound, Edwards seemed to be either yelling, coughing or gasping under the sheer white hood deputies put over his head to keep him from spitting.
Jail staff periodically glanced through the windows of his cell but did not enter as Edwards struggled. Nearby, deputies focused on paperwork or chatted with each other. By the time a deputy noticed Edwards had stopped moving and a nurse entered the cell, it was too late. Edwards was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. In an autopsy report, his cause of death was listed as “excited delirium.”
“They just saw him as a bother, as a nuisance,” said Dana Jackson, a representative of the family and Edwards’s neighbor. “They continued to go on with their daily job like nothing just happened. It’s just so disheartening. I think we all needed to see this.”
Watching for the first time Friday the video of her friend and neighbor dying, Jackson felt the 16 minutes he was left alone pass slowly. Jackson, also an Army combat medic in Iraq, said deputies should have treated the veteran better.
“It felt like it was a movie, like, ‘Hurry up, hurry up with the time frame. He needs help, he needs help,’ is all I kept thinking about,” she said in an interview. Jackson spoke on behalf of his family members, who she said were not ready to speak with the media.
Ivey had previously refused to release the video, citing concerns that revealing what the inside of the jail looked like would violate the security of the facility and staff. He pointed to reviews by his own agency, the state’s attorney’s office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which found that the police use of force was justified.
But an investigation by Florida Today found that deputies violated at least 14 of the agency’s policies.
Along with the two-hour video that covers the time from when Edwards was escorted into jail by police when he was wheeled out on a gurney, Ivey also produced an edited one-hour narrated video titled “Truth Be Told” criticizing the extensive coverage by Florida Today as “misinformation” and defending his deputies’ actions as “professional.” He also cited Edwards’s previous drug use and criminal record, which activists have said is irrelevant to how he should have been treated by police.
“The video clearly shows that not only did deputies not do anything to cause Edwards’s death, they did everything they could to keep him from being harmed,” Ivey said in his video.
A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Randy Foster, an expert in police use of force and retired supervisory deputy U.S. marshal, said officers should have handled Edwards differently from the moment he was arrested in a Walmart parking lot for allegedly assaulting a charity worker. Edwards’s wife, Kathleen, told responding West Melbourne Police officers that her husband was diagnosed with PTSD. Kathleen, who is also a veteran, said he wasn’t sleeping well and they had planned to go to Veterans Affairs for medical help.
Instead of institutionalizing Edwards under the Baker Act, which the family said would have prevented his death, officers took the veteran to jail. A representative for West Melbourne Police did not respond to a request for comment.
In the video, Edwards appears calm in his cell. He eats lunch, and at one point begins doing push-ups. As time ticks by, Edwards becomes irritated and begins banging on the door window. When a deputy tries to escort him to be photographed, a brawl ensues. More than a dozen deputies respond. One pepper sprays Edwards, while another uses a stun gun six times. The hooks from the gun were still in Edwards’s back when he began to convulse alone in his cell.
After about five minutes of struggling, deputies put Edwards in a restraining chair and put a white hood over his head to keep him from spitting on them, which he does not appear to do in the video. These types of hoods are considered controversial, and the agency has since changed its policy for use of hoods and restraint chairs, Florida Today reported.
Ivey defended the use of force, saying that it followed department procedure, and implied that Edwards became ill because he had huffed inhalants.
Foster and others have said those remarks were uncalled for.
“He was degrading his character as a human being,” Foster said. “Those comments didn’t need to be added to a veteran who lost his life in a jail. He’s not being prosecuted for his past behavior.”