Viral video leads to threats to Florida officer in veteran’s arrest
A heavily-edited viral video depicting the arrest of Gregory Edwards in December 2018, and his death a day later in a hospital, has created a false impression that the arresting officer killed him, leading to death threats against the officer, according to a memo Wednesday from the city of West Melbourne.
The video released last week on social media by activists and posted on Facebook by his widow, Kathleen Edwards, shows a West Melbourne officer lying atop the 38-year-old combat veteran, holding his head down on the ground with his arm across the back of Edwards' neck, attempting to keep him subdued.
It was December 9, 2018, and Edwards, a former combat medic, was having what his wife described at the time as a post-traumatic stress disorder episode and had assaulted a charity worker. The West Melbourne Police Department was the arresting agency. Hours later, Edwards was found in a jail cell unresponsive after a confrontation with corrections deputies in the Brevard County Jail.
The video then jumps from the arrest to the hospital bedside the next day where a brain dead Edwards was taken off life support. The video has since been shared on social media multiple times, including by social commentator and radio host D.L. Hughley on his Instagram page, garnering nearly 500,000 views.
"The video makes it appear that Mr. Edwards’ death was the direct result of his arrest and restraint by West Melbourne police officers.That is not the case," said the memo by West Melbourne's City Attorney, Morris Richardson. "As Mrs. Edwards’ attorney would write in March 2019, '[i]t is clear that an otherwise healthy [Gregory Edwards] walked into the Jail and, in a very short time, suffered an anoxic brain injury that lead to his death,'” the memo added.
Richardson sent the memo to city officials to address what he called "misinformation being spread on social media", which he said, "has provoked threats to a West Melbourne officer and his family." No examples were provided.
Richardson said West Melbourne police officers had arrested Edwards, gathered information about his combat veteran status and history of PTSD, before walking him into the county jail alive and well.
Within two hours, Edwards would be rushed to Rockledge Regional Medical Center where he would be declared dead the following day.
The Brevard County medical examiner ruled the manner of death an accident and the state attorney in 2019 cleared the jail deputies of any criminal wrongdoing.
The misplaced perception that the West Melbourne police — which brought Edwards to the jail — is responsible for his death could bolster activists' calls for the Brevard County Sheriff's Office, which runs the jail, to release a video of the altercation between Edwards and seven corrections deputies.
A video of the confrontation at the jail has been at the center of recent demonstrations in Brevard County with activists and news organizations demanding its release.
Both the State Attorney's Office and the Brevard County Sheriff's Office have declined to release the video of the jail confrontation, citing an exemption to the Public Records Act covering surveillance and video recordings. The state attorney's office has said that the sheriff's office can use its discretion to release the video, however, Sheriff Wayne Ivey said Tuesday in a news conference that he will not.
"The state stature allows me not to and I'm not going to. I'm not going to put the men and women that work in that jail, at risk, I'm not going to put the security of that jail at risk when a very thorough investigation was done and on top of that, the state attorney himself has seen that video and used it as part of his decision in saying there was no wrongdoing on behalf of the deputies," Ivey said.
The edited social media video began circulating last week, not long after a June 1 rally that drew nearly 200 people to the Walmart on Palm Bay Road. It was the same Walmart where Edwards was arrested.
Kathleen Edwards and several community leaders have called for the jail video to be made public or at least shown to family members. FLORIDA TODAY and other news organizations have also requested to see the video.
J.D. Gallop is a Criminal Justice/Breaking News Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Gallop at 321-917-4641 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JDGallop.
This story originally published to floridatoday.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.