Crime The chronicle of a U.S. Army vet's violent end at the Brevard Jail

21:05  08 november  2019
21:05  08 november  2019 Source:   floridatoday.com

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Kathleen Edwards watched her Army veteran husband taken to jail hopeful he would get mental health help. Instead, Gregory Edwards, a former army medic who served in Kosovo and Iraq, ended up on life support following an altercation with seven corrections deputies at the Brevard County Jail .

Around 11 p.m. on January 26, an armed robber entered the Sugar Creek Gas Station located at 4353 Highway 46 in Mims, Florida. The suspect handed the clerk a plastic bag to place the money in, at which time a struggle ensued for the weapon. The clerk, a U . S . military veteran who did multiple tours

Kathleen Edwards left home on the morning of Dec. 9, 2018, with the thought that she was protecting her husband.

It was an overcast, drizzly Sunday morning and her husband, Gregory Lloyd Edwards, a 38-year-old disabled combat veteran, who like her, struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, had been acting erratically at home.

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For four sleepless days, Gregory Edwards paced the floor of their Grant-Valkaria house, hearing noises, opening and closing doors, and constantly checking on their sleeping toddler.

Kathleen Edwards, nine months pregnant with the couple’s second child, had seen these signs before, especially around the Christmas holidays. She feared that if she left her husband alone he would hurt himself or worse, become suicidal.

"He wasn't sleeping and he was not thinking right. He was excited because we were about to have a new baby," Kathleen Edwards recalled.

So on that overcast morning at around 11 a.m., Kathleen Edwards took her daughter, then barely 18 months old, and Gregory on what she expected to be an uneventful outing to the Walmart in West Melbourne to pick up some diapers for the baby and sleeping pills for her husband.

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U . S . Army Human Resources Command, Fort Knox, Kentucky. American forces , under the command of Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, led the largest coalition of allied Medical researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet ) Working Dog Center

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Within the hour, Gregory Edwards would have what his wife told police was a PTSD episode in front of the store. He climbed into the back of a box truck where Christmas donations were being collected and, according to police, assaulted one of the volunteers.

Kathleen then watched as the man she loved was wrestled to the ground and held there until police arrived. When it was all over she watched as her husband was driven away in a police cruiser, feeling hopeful that he would get the mental health help he needed.

Instead, Gregory Edwards, a former army medic who served in Kosovo and Iraq, ended up on life support following an altercation with seven corrections deputies at the Brevard County Jail. He died the next day. And the system Kathleen Edwards hoped would help instead cleared the corrections officers involved of any criminal wrongdoing.

a man and a woman taking a selfie: Kathleen Edwards and her husband Gregory Lloyd Edwards.© MALCOLM DENEMARK/FLORIDA TODAY Kathleen Edwards and her husband Gregory Lloyd Edwards.

"I was so disappointed, it hurt," Kathleen Edwards said.

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A FLORIDA TODAY review of the case and testimony showed a series of failures, from the time Edwards was arrested to the time he died. It showed that the Brevard County Sheriff's Office may have violated at least 14 of its own policies and procedures concerning the use of less-than-lethal force and the subsequent restraint of Edwards that left him "unresponsive" in a restraint chair alone in a holding cell.

There are still many unanswered questions. Why did the Brevard County Medical Examiner rule Edwards' death an accident? Why did the state attorney commend the deputies at the jail for how they handled Edwards when the sheriff's investigation revealed several missteps? Why did an internal administrative investigation find only one breach of policy by senior corrections deputies when required medical support was withheld from Edwards until he was found alone in his cell barely breathing?

What happened to Edwards raises concerns about how different law enforcement agencies and first responders communicate with each other and handle mental health cases, in particular, those involving veterans. It also draws into question how the sheriff's office investigates in-custody deaths, the integrity of those investigations and the role of the medical examiner and state attorney in reviewing such cases independently.

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a black leather jacket: Kathleen Edwards  has questions about her husbands in- custody death. Her Husband Gregory Lloyd Edwards had a PTSD episode at the W west Melbourne Walmart, he was arrested, taken to jail. Hours later medics were called to the detention center, he was taken to the hospital and died. The sheriff's office is doing the investigation. The medals on his Army uniform.© MALCOLM DENEMARK/FLORIDA TODAY Kathleen Edwards has questions about her husbands in- custody death. Her Husband Gregory Lloyd Edwards had a PTSD episode at the W west Melbourne Walmart, he was arrested, taken to jail. Hours later medics were called to the detention center, he was taken to the hospital and died. The sheriff's office is doing the investigation. The medals on his Army uniform.

Despite these gaps, much is known about the circumstances leading to Edwards' death. What is known is that a struggle ensued at the jail between Edwards and a corrections deputy. As many as seven deputies came to their colleague's aid, descending upon Edwards. They punched and kneed Edwards, pepper-sprayed him, Tased him six times, cuffed him, strapped him into a restraint chair, punched him some more and put a fine mesh spit hood over his head, before leaving him alone in a cell.

Both the sheriff's office and state attorney’s office have refused to release the video footage of what transpired in the jail, a video that could clarify the events that led to Edwards' eventual death.

The Arrest

It was 11:11 a.m. on Dec. 9, 2018.

The Edwards family had arrived a few minutes earlier at Walmart on Palm Bay Road in West Melbourne. Dozens of shoppers were streaming in and out of the retail store.

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Kathleen Edwards was pushing her daughter in the cart believing that her husband was walking just behind her. But Gregory Edwards wasn't following his wife.

Edwards ended up jumping into the back of a box truck parked outside the Walmart entrance where gifts were being loaded for a children’s charity. He then laid down on top of the toys. He was told to get out by a charity worker. Instead, he took his shoes off and started laughing.

Gregory Edwards eventually got off the truck and then allegedly assaulted one of the charity workers before being pinned to the ground by another. Somebody called 911 and West Melbourne Police officer Jacob Mathis arrived first and took over.

While waiting for backup, body camera footage showed Mathis lying across a struggling Edwards, face down on the ground. Mathis was successfully able to contain Edwards, controlling his head and neck with his forearm. Mathis repeatedly told Edwards to "relax," "stop" and "calm down." Kathleen Edwards, standing nearby, looked on, echoing Mathis, telling her husband to relax.

Screengrab from video taken of Gregory Lloyd Edwards' arrest at Walmart. Kathleen Edwards says her husband had a PTSD episode at Walmart, was arrested, taken to jail, then died at a hospital 1 day later.© Screengrab Screengrab from video taken of Gregory Lloyd Edwards' arrest at Walmart. Kathleen Edwards says her husband had a PTSD episode at Walmart, was arrested, taken to jail, then died at a hospital 1 day later.

"Why are you fighting?" Mathis asked, at which point Kathleen Edwards first informed Mathis of her husband's mental health issues.

"I don't want to tase you. I don't want to pepper spray you. Just stop okay?" Mathis said.

Edwards can be heard grunting and mumbling incoherently as shoppers looked on. Eventually, Mathis was able to cuff Edwards with bystander assistance before backup arrived to apply leg restraints, lift Edwards off the ground and put him into the back of a patrol car.

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As this happened, West Melbourne Police officer Michael Perez diligently recorded Edwards’ mental health history, veteran status and prescribed medications from Kathleen Edwards.

“I brought him with me because I didn’t want to leave him at the house because I didn’t want him to, like, commit suicide,” Edwards calmly told Perez as her husband was placed in the back of a patrol car.

It was 12:15 p.m.

Officer Kevin Krukoski, who transported Edwards to the county jail, filled out paperwork for a Baker Act, the Florida law that allows for the involuntary temporary detention, examination and treatment of people who are impaired because of mental illness.

Kathleen Edwards, also a combat veteran who suffers from PTSD, recalling the incident later, said that she was in some ways “relieved” when police took her husband into custody. Gregory Edwards had been Baker Acted before, and Kathleen Edwards figured that since he was obviously suffering from a psychotic episode, her husband was going to get the help he needed.

Perez comes across as sensitive to her concern as he records her information.

“I need to find out from the fire department if they're going to take him in for a checkup medically because I'm going to assume it's not a drug-related issue," Perez told her.

A team of emergency medical responders from Brevard County Fire Rescue was on the scene because of the 911 call.

"When you get really wound up sometimes the body reacts and you get health issues so they may or may not take him to check them out. I will let you know,” he continued.

It was the last time Kathleen Edwards would see her husband alive.

She finished her errands and returned home, waiting to hear from the police.

In the dark

It was 9:00 p.m.

BCSO Sergeant Kevin Roberts contacted Kathleen Edwards to tell her that her husband was at Rockledge Regional Medical Center and she urgently needed to go there. BCSO Agent Jennifer Straight then called to follow up. Alone and in her final weeks of pregnancy and with a small child to look after, Kathleen Edwards told Straight she could not get to the hospital right away. Straight decided to go to the Edwards home. In the meantime, Kathleen Edwards had spoken to hospital staff. Nurses informed her that her husband had been resuscitated after an incident and was losing blood.

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It was 10:38 p.m.

BCSO agents Jennifer Straight and Wendy Wheeler arrived at Edwards house. The interaction was recorded by Agent Straight, who began rolling the audio recording before arriving at the door.

The agents told Kathleen again that her husband was in the ICU and then started asking her questions about his medical history.

After several minutes, Kathleen Edwards mentioned that she thought her husband — who struggled in the past with alcohol — may have been inhaling cans of compressed air used to clean electronic devices, possibly even the day before. Inhaling aerosols, known as huffing, is done for a quick "high." Kathleen Edwards said she never saw her husband use them and noticed several cans in the trash only the previous day.

"I don't know. He didn’t tell me he was doing it. I just saw it in the trash can,​" she said, her voice wavering.

She wasn't being evasive, she later said. She just didn't know. What Kathleen saw was that, despite the holiday period setback, Gregory Edwards seemed to be doing better. He had given up drinking and smoking for a year, according to his VA clinic progress notes.

"Veteran has shown stability in the past year with efforts in his sobriety, focusing on family." That said, the VA also reported that Edwards was plagued by nightmares of war, causing him fatigue.

Paranoid thoughts, hyper-vigilance and psychosis had been a problem the year before. In 2017, Gregory Edwards was Baker Acted for psychosis which was believed to be related to his PTSD. During that time he threatened the family dog, his wife and in his delusion took his infant daughter to the Palm Bay emergency room, believing his child had been pepper-sprayed.

The episode prompted Kathleen Edwards to file a petition for injunction for protection against domestic violence. But Gregory Edwards quit tobacco and alcohol, and by all accounts appeared to be improving.

Kathleen Edwards asked Straight about her husband's condition.

"What kind of critical condition? Did he get beat up?" she asked.

Straight responded: "No. He did become combative. He did have a medical event. That’s why we’re here. We really want you, we need you to get to the hospital."

"How did this happen," Kathleen asked. "How’s he losing blood?"

Straight replied: "We don’t know either. We’re trying to figure it out, what kind of event occurred."

Except that by this time, Straight had already interviewed many key witnesses including jail nurses and deputies.

Kathleen Edwards then asked if Straight thought the prior use of aerosols was relevant. Straight said she didn't know. Edwards asked if Straight would pass on the information to the doctors at Rockledge.

"Yeah, absolutely," Straight said.

There is no record of that information being communicated from the sheriff's office to doctors at Rockledge Regional.

What's more, the doctor's notes from Rockledge Regional revealed that doctors were kept in the dark about the circumstances of Gregory Edwards' arrest and were initially told they could not be put in contact with Kathleen Edwards.

Before they left the Edwards home, investigators snapped photos of a trash bin with several cans of "Endust,” the electronics cleaner that Gregory Edwards was possibly inhaling.

Kathleen Edwards arrived at the hospital sometime later that night to find her husband handcuffed to the bed, intubated and non-responsive, with a deputy posted outside of the room. Her husband lingered on life support, comatose, while doctors reported brain damage and multiple organ failure.

Gregory Edwards died the next day, Dec. 10, but not before a deputy ordered the handcuffs to be slipped off, removing him from custody, she recalled.

"There should have been a protocol for mental illness. They could tell something was wrong with him. But nobody paid me any attention," Kathleen Edwards said months later. "He saved people's lives for his country. He volunteered to be a combat medic and this is how he was treated."

Communication Breakdown

The scene at Walmart was the site of the first major communication breakdown in Gregory Edwards' treatment. Something apparently snapped for him as he jumped into the truck with the Christmas toys. Officers responded. And instead of being taken to a treatment care facility for a mental health evaluation, he was transported to jail.

While it may never be known, Kathleen Edwards believes that had her husband been taken to a hospital rather than to the jail, he would possibly be alive today. But for decades since the Baker Act was passed in 1972, law enforcement officers and social advocates have struggled to find a balance of how to handle people under arrest who show signs of mental illness.

For the most part, such decisions on whether to turn over a defendant to a facility like Circles of Care depend on the situation of their arrest, said Cmdr. Mark Claycomb of the Melbourne Police Department.

"There are guidelines. If it's a low-level, non-threatening crime, then they can go to Circles of Care. But if you committed a murder or a forcible felony, then we will take you away to the county jail," he said. He adds that there are only a finite number of beds at the mental health treatment facility.

The question then becomes, what, if any, mental health treatment options might be found at the jail, which by practice has become the default facility in Brevard where the mentally ill — by way of a criminal charge — are deposited.

While BCSO deputies have some training in recognizing mental health issues, Armor Correctional, the contractor that provides the Brevard County Jail with medical staff is not contracted to provide mental health services. The company said that none of its nurses at the jail at the time Edwards arrived had psychiatric training.

Even before that the system appeared to fail Edwards.

Body camera footage from West Melbourne police showed officers instructing paramedics from Brevard Fire Rescue station 83 to check on Edwards as he was taken to the patrol car for transport. Paramedics were seen standing near the patrol car containing Edwards in the footage and acknowledging the verbal request to check on him. However, for unknown reasons, a medical evaluation never happened.

All three fire rescue personnel testified to investigators that they did not clear Edwards.

Fire medic Carlos Iriban testified to sheriff's office investigators that he was never asked to medically evaluate Edwards. Fire medic Jonathan Weiss says West Melbourne Police told him they wanted Edwards medically cleared but while waiting to do that said West Melbourne officers "cancelled them." Brevard County Fire Rescue Trainee Laura Clarisse suggested they perhaps didn't evaluate Edwards because it wasn't safe, that he might kick them. However, this was unlikely as Edwards was seated in the car, handcuffed and with his legs tied together.

It was 12:37 p.m.

Krukoski set out with Edwards in the back of the patrol car for the Brevard County Jail. He did so, he testified, believing that BCFR paramedics had cleared Edwards medically for jail, in accordance with West Melbourne police procedure for handling emotionally disturbed persons.

He testified to the sheriff's investigators that he recalled getting a thumbs up and a “he’s good” affirmative reply from one of the paramedics when he asked if Edwards had been checked out. Whatever the case, Krukoski had filled out a Baker Act form and other charge papers and was on his way for the long drive to Sharpes.

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In transit to the jail, Edwards sat in the back of a patrol car, confused, moving in and out of lucidity, and seemingly unaware of his situation. But for the most part, he sat peacefully. At one point, he told Krukoski, "I'm just chilling." There were times he did grow restless, yelling that Krukoski was "going the wrong way." He then begged Krukoski to "please" take off his handcuffs, saying he couldn't feel his hands. Edwards only briefly became agitated after Krukoski ignored his pleas about the cuffs and a request to be taken to his VA outpatient clinic.

According to records, Krukoski radioed Perez, and asked him to call ahead to the jail to request assistance taking in Edwards. Upon arrival, Edwards appeared compliant in footage from the patrol car released to FLORIDA TODAY by West Melbourne Police.

It was 1:12 p.m.

The in-car video ended with Edwards being led out of the car and into the jail.

Footage from the jail, which captured what happened next, is being withheld from release by the sheriff's and state attorney's offices despite multiple requests by FLORIDA TODAY and other news outlets to review it.

While it is unknown what Krukoski or any other West Melbourne officer may have communicated verbally to corrections deputies about Edwards’ case, the paperwork, including a Baker Act form, was completed. It included details such as his mental health diagnosis and veteran's status. At the same time, Edwards was facing charges of battery and resisting an officer with violence.

The Confrontation

It was 1:19 p.m.

Edwards was brought into the booking area and placed into holding cell No. 7. Corrections deputies and booking technicians at the jail then heard banging on the window and noted that Edwards appeared agitated.

The administrative investigation noted that Edwards was behaving aggressively and nonsensically at times, doing push-ups, squats and shadow boxing.

"It appears Mr. Edwards then begins talking to himself and he makes hand gestures as if he is making a point in a conversation as he paces around the cell. As he paces around, it appears that he begins to become increasingly agitated and begins to yell," the sheriff's administrative investigation noted.

A while later, corrections deputy Brian Otto opened the cell door, providing Edwards with jail-issued flip-flops. But Edwards walked past the footwear, seemingly not processing the situation, according to Otto's testimony.

Nonetheless, Otto attempted to direct Edwards out of the cell and down a hall to a room where he would be fingerprinted and photographed as a part of the booking process. However "as Inmate Edwards was being escorted to begin the process, Inmate Edwards became uncooperative," investigators wrote.

It was unclear from Otto's testimony what provoked an altercation, and the investigators' report stated that "both began falling to the ground."

"While falling, Inmate Edwards punched [Otto] with his left fist," and Edwards landed on top of Otto who hits the back of his head on the floor, the sheriff's criminal investigation said.

The administrative investigation provided somewhat more detail. It said Edwards first walked in the opposite direction, when Otto placed his hand on Edwards' shoulder "in an attempt to guide him."

"Edwards appears to comply at first, taking steps in the correct direction. Mr. Edwards then abruptly stops where he swings his arm in an attempt to remove (Otto's) hand from his shoulder and then appears to tense up and pull away."

"(Otto) still has his hand on Edwards' shoulder as he grabs his clothing."

"(Edwards) then attempts to pull away, swinging his left arm in what appears to be an attempt to punch (Otto) in the face, both (Otto) and Mr. Edwards go to the floor."

The commotion immediately drew the attention of other deputies who ran to assist the fallen officer. Edwards was on top of the injured officer as other deputies rushed in.

Over the next five minutes and 17 seconds, as many as seven deputies intervened to restrain Edwards. "Pain compliance techniques" were used, including punches, kicks and “upper jaw thrusts.” Otto then fired a burst of pepper spray to Edwards' face.

Major Kelly Haman ordered Deputy Alison Blazewicz to deploy her Taser. The device logs showed that the trigger was pulled six times, for a total discharge time of 49 seconds over a minute and half.

At one point, Edward said, "I'll stop," Blazewicz testified to the sheriff's administrative investigation. But said she continued to deploy her weapon because she "believed ...(it) was necessary to gain compliance."

Blazewicz did not follow the Taser manufacturer's recommended use.

She used her Taser by first firing the electronic darts and then without the darts, touching Edwards directly with the exposed electrodes like a more traditional stun gun, a technique Taser's manufacturer, Axon, calls a "drive-stun." But according to Axon, drive stuns should not be used against people with mental health issues.

"Avoid repeated drive-stuns if compliance is not achieved, particularly with (Emotionally Disturbed Persons)," Taser's guidelines state. They also advise users to avoid repeated, continuous exposures beyond 15 seconds.

Edwards was ultimately cuffed, strapped into a restraint chair and had a fine mesh spit hood placed over his head.

A fine-mesh spit hood similar to that used on Gregory Lloyd Edwards.© BCSO A fine-mesh spit hood similar to that used on Gregory Lloyd Edwards.

It was 1:57 pm.

The pepper spray had not been removed from his face. Edwards was drooling and tearing and mucus was running from his nose. He was still groaning and making noise. BCSO policy clearly states that chemical spray should be wiped away from subjects' faces with a towel once they are restrained.

Then, the chair holding Edwards was rolled into cell No. 9, where he was left unattended, the hood still over his head and the pepper spray still on his face.

It was 2:07 pm.

At this point, Edwards was still conscious, and could be heard grunting and shouting incoherently, according to testimony.

The sheriff's office administrative investigation reported that staff occasionally viewed Edwards from outside the cell while he was left alone. Video time stamps suggest there were checks through the cell window, though testimony to the sheriff's investigators did not corroborate those observations. And some of the deputies reported that it was hard to see through the window.

Corporal Andrea Mustafa described the view to investigators as "not clear" and said the glass looked "smoky."

"One of the booking techs, D'Agostino came to me and ... says the guy doesn't look right. So we look through and the glass is smoky, and he had a spit mask on. So it was like, it was wasn't clear what we were seeing," Mustafa said in her testimony.

At this point Mustafa called for the ranking officers to come take a look at Edwards.

It was 2:23 pm.

Lieutenant George Fayson and Field Training Officer Robert Wagner Jr. entered the cell and removed the spit hood from Edwards' head. They then wiped the pepper spray off his face with a towel. Edwards was slumped over and unresponsive.

Nurse Debora Nadeau waited at the door of the cell. Until then, she had yet to conduct any medical assessment of Edwards, contrary to the demands of BCSO policy that state he should have been checked immediately upon being secured in the restraint chair.

In her testimony, Nadeau first stated it was because she was told not to by an officer. She said this was because Edwards was "a combative" coming into the jail.

She later contradicted herself, saying the decision was more of a matter of practice, rather than a specific order she was given not to check on inmates.

"We're not supposed to try nothing. They (the deputies) give us permission. Otherwise I'd have been out there. They have to give us permission to enter the area"  Nadeau testified.

It was 2:26 p.m.

Nurse Nadeau entered the cell and placed an oxygen mask on Edwards' face and for a few moments he began blinking, according to her testimony. A call for a stretcher was made to the medical ward, though before it arrived the decision was made to wheel Edwards to the ward while still strapped in the restraint chair.

Nearly 15 minutes had elapsed from when he was first found unresponsive to when he arrived at the medical ward. A trickle of blood trailed from his nose and his color was "ashen," according to the charge nurse who received him at the medical ward.

It was 2:38 p.m.

Charge Nurse Ashley Taylor instructed the jail staff to initiate CPR and call 9-1-1 and remove Edwards from the restraint chair. At this point in time nurses reported Edwards had no pulse and had stopped breathing.

In the meantime, a very confusing 9-1-1 call was made. The caller from the jail did not know any details of why he was calling, beyond needing an ambulance for the aftermath of an inmate-officer altercation.

"Who's got injuries?" the BCFR dispatcher asked. "I believe the officer," the caller replied.

"What kind of injuries, do you know?" the dispatcher asked.

"No I don't, I wasn't told that either,"  the caller replied.

The BCFR dispatcher then asked: where exactly was the ambulance needed at the jail complex? The caller again didn't know and put BCFR on hold while he checked before telling the dispatcher to send it to the medical unit entrance.

CPR was initiated and a defibrillator set up in an attempt to revive Edwards, who was then in a stretcher on the ground. Nurses and deputies took turns doing chest compressions.

Narcan — a drug typically used to revive those suspected of having an opioid overdose  — was also administered, even though there was no discussion or evidence that Edwards had used any drugs.

It was 2:49 p.m.

Brevard County Fire Rescue paramedics arrived at the county jail to find Edwards unconscious and without a pulse. Edwards was hooked up to oxygen and a defibrillator, but he is asystolic: no pulse, no breathing. A nurse would later tell investigators that there was fecal matter in the restraint chair Edwards was strapped in.

It was 3:05 p.m.

BCFR ambulance left the jail with Edwards.

It was 3:45 p.m.

BCFR ambulance arrived at Rockledge Regional Medical Center.

It was 3:57 p.m.

A doctor at the hospital entered into the medical record that paramedics reported Edwards was tased, placed in a holding cell for an unknown period of time and was found completely unresponsive. It noted access to medical history was unavailable as Edwards was in a "comatose state" after being intubated and put on advanced cardiac life support. "The patient has no spontaneous respirations."

It was the next day, Dec 10 at 12:03 p.m.

A doctor noted: "This is a 38-year-old male who was admitted... from jail after he had cardiac arrest while in his cell, details of what happened to him is unclear."

He noted Edwards' organs were shutting down, there was swelling in his brain, he had blood clots throughout his system and his kidneys were failing.

Later that day at 8:00 p.m.

A deputy entered the hospital room and removed the handcuffs that bound Edwards to the bed. Doctors then came in and took Edwards off life support, and his death was recorded.

Soon after, his body was taken to the medical examiner's office, where an autopsy was conducted the next morning. A month later, on Jan. 11,  2019, Brevard's medical examiner, Dr. Sajid Qaiser, filled out Edwards' long-form death certificate.

The autopsy report was not yet complete. Final toxicology reports were not back yet. But Qaiser concluded that Edwards died of "excited delirium and complications" due to "hyperactive and violent state with subsequent restraint." He ruled the manner of death an accident.

Excited delirium is a rare and controversial condition often linked to the use of illegal stimulant drugs, like methamphetamine, and violence involving law enforcement officers. Edwards' autopsy has been questioned by Dr. Stephen J. Nelson, the chair of the Florida Medical Examiners Commission.

a little girl that is standing in the grass: Gregory Edwards' daughter visits his grave© Contributed by Kathleen Edwards Gregory Edwards' daughter visits his grave

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It was Dec. 12 at 9.24 a.m.

Barely two days after Edwards' passing, with autopsy findings still pending, the sheriff's office put out a press release announcing the death in custody of Gregory Edwards.

No mention is made of a fight between Edwards and seven deputies. Nor is the use of a Taser or pepper spray or a restraint chair noted. Nothing is said about his veteran status. The headline simply read: "Brevard Inmate Dies After Suffering Medical Emergency at the Jail."

"A Brevard County Jail inmate has died after suffering an apparent medical event during his booking procedure on December 9, 2018," it said, adding: "The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office Homicide Unit is investigating the death. The investigation to date has identified a previous inhalant use/abuse as a possible cause of the medical event."

Sheriff's investigators seemed fixated on Edwards' possible use of inhalants as a potential key factor in his death, and the theory was pursued throughout the medical examiner's case. BCSO Agent Straight sent several emails asking Qaiser's office about the toxicology results.

Deputies even went to a hardware store and photographed the list of ingredients on cans of the electronics cleaners like those found in the Edwards home and sent them to the medical examiner's office. Despite the multiple tests, all Edwards' toxicology results came back negative except for the active ingredient found in the antihistamine Benadryl.

No public mention of Edwards' case was made again by the sheriff's office until July 1, when State Attorney Phil Archer cleared the deputies involved in the case of wrongdoing, ruling that the use of force was justifiable, and commending them for their handling of Edwards once it was clear he was in distress. Although the sheriff's office  did not put out a press release, Archer's office released the sheriff's criminal investigative services report.

Six days before the report was released, on June 25, Sheriff Ivey and Archer appeared in a video on the sheriff's office Facebook page to announce a new initiative to help U.S. military vets incarcerated at the jail. Under the plan, such veterans would be housed together so they could support each other. The program was called "S.A.V.E.," an acronym for Saving America's Veterans Everyday.

"This is a newly developed program that works to assist our veterans of armed forces who find themselves incarcerated at the Brevard County jail on various types of charges," Ivey said in the video shot at the jail with Archer at his side, as a group of male inmates in blue jumpsuits and DayGlo-orange sneakers filed into the room from a side door.

Ivey went on to add that while there was no doubt the men had committed crimes, "There is also no doubt that these same individuals at some point put their lives on the line to protect our country and our citizens." They deserved, he said, a second chance.

Although no mention of Edwards was made, or any announcement about the pending decision by Archer, Kathleen Edwards felt sickened by what she saw.

In an emailed statement sent to FLORIDA TODAY by sheriff's office spokesman Tod Goodyear, the BCSO noted of Edwards: "The fact that he was a veteran of course adds to the tragic nature of the outcome, but does not change the fact that Mr. Edwards’ own violent conduct and actions led to his arrest, detention, transportation to the jail, and his subsequent medical problems."

Multiple deputies, including Otto, testified that they felt physically intimidated by Edwards because of his likely “advanced combat training” owing to him being a combat veteran.

Otto was taken to the hospital after the altercation by another deputy and was treated for "abrasions to his body, a contusion to the back of his head and a concussion," according to the sheriff's report.

Emanuel Augustus, Barack Obama, Samantha Mumba posing for the camera: Family photo provided of Kathleen and Gregory Lloyd Edwards at the White House with President Obama. Both were disabled veterans and participated in the Wounded Warriors project.© MALCOLM DENEMARK/FLORIDA TODAY Family photo provided of Kathleen and Gregory Lloyd Edwards at the White House with President Obama. Both were disabled veterans and participated in the Wounded Warriors project.

One Last Battle

Kathleen Edwards sits in her home in Grant-Valkaria looking over photos of her husband from happier days. The two met at a VA hospital in West Virginia during an in-patient PTSD program. Kathleen was Air Force. He was Army.

She talked about suffering a brain injury in Iraq after a rocket-propelled grenade slammed in front of her convoy. Greg, she said, spent his time jumping from helicopters in Kosovo and Iraq, sustaining PTSD along with knee and hearing injuries.

Both were sent to the VA for therapy.

"We'd meet in the recreation room, at lunch," she recalled. "We helped each other and he was very much in my business. We were both disabled and I never thought I'd be married or have any kids."

They married in 2015.

Kathleen said she has one more battle to fight. She thinks often about that Saturday afternoon, about getting her husband to leave home with her so that he would not be alone. She thinks about him as he was lying on the ground, his grip on reality lost to the trauma of war. She thinks about him dying alone, his face hooded, hands cuffed, struggling in a restraint chair.

a man and a woman taking a selfie: Kathleen Edwards in her Grant home, a tapestry with her husband's photo on it hangs on the wall behind her. She is holding the flag given to her at her husband's funeral.© MALCOLM DENEMARK/FLORIDA TODAY Kathleen Edwards in her Grant home, a tapestry with her husband's photo on it hangs on the wall behind her. She is holding the flag given to her at her husband's funeral.

"I want justice. Now my kids don't have a father, I lost half my life, I have nothing. We spent all of those years looking out for each other," she said.

Since her husband's death, Kathleen Edwards has struggled to move forward. She remains haunted by what happened to her husband. She wants something done about what she sees as a the lack of adequate treatment for those suffering mental illness at the county jail. She has hired an attorney.

Kathleen Edwards also requested that her husband's brain and kidneys — removed by the medical examiner's office — be returned so that she can bury them with her husband. That has not happened yet. She has been going through therapy to cope with her loss.

"Where is the justice?" she asked, pointing out that her trust in the system has been shattered. "I need these police to be accountable. The battle hasn't even begun."


Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon is a Watchdog Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY.

Contact Sassoon at 321-355-8144, asassoon@floridatoday.com and Twitter: @alemzs

J.D. Gallop is Criminal Justice Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY.

Contact Gallop at 321-917-4641, jdgallop@floridatoday.com and Twitter: @JDGallop

Bobby Block is Watchdog Editor at FLORIDA TODAY.

Contact Block at 321-794-7761 or bblock@floridatoday.com.

How we reported this

To do these stories, two reporters, J.D. Gallop and Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon, and Watchdog Editor Bobby Block combed through over 500 pages of sheriff’s office investigative reports, listened to more than 50 audio recordings and cross referenced them with hundreds of pages in the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office policy and procedure manual.

In addition, the team reviewed medical examiner files, hospital reports, EMS paperwork, death certificates, Taser training manuals and restraint chair practices.

Sassoon, Gallop and Block interviewed Gregory’s widow, Kathleen, at various times until her legal team stopped her from speaking further. Sassoon and Block sent materials to independent experts for review, while Gallop spoke to different law enforcement agencies to get their take on decisions made.

In all, the team spent 10 months digging into this tragedy. Multiple requests over that period to speak in person to Sheriff Wayne Ivey, State Attorney Phil Archer and Medical Examiner Sajid Qaiser were rejected. In the end, all responded in writing but did not address all questions.

This article originally appeared on Florida Today: The chronicle of a U.S. Army vet's violent end at the Brevard Jail

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