On March 6, 2023, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit against the Brevard County Sheriff and his deputies finding, the deputies’ actions were “regrettable” but that they did not violate Veteran Gregory Edwards’s constitutional rights, despite the fact that Veteran Edwards was beaten, tasered, pepper-sprayed, spit-hooded, strapped into a restraint chair sitting on taser barbs, and left alone in a cell until he became unconscious and ultimately died.
As many of you know, I was one of the attorneys representing Florida Today in their fight to get the jail video released that showed what happened to Veteran Edwards. Sheriff Ivey fought us tooth and nail. After we got the video released, other attorneys filed a federal lawsuit alleging wrongful death and violation of Edwards’s constitutional rights. The federal judge has dismissed the case agreeing with the sheriff’s claim that the deputies did not violate Gregory Edwards’s rights.
The court’s dismissal wrongly concludes that facts were not in dispute. Motions for summary judgment should only be granted if there are no disputed facts. Here, the ‘facts’ relied upon by the judge were contradicted or contrary to the video. For example:
- The court found that it was not unreasonable to leave Edwards in the restraint chair because Edwards continued to struggle after being strapped in. The judge did not appear to take into consideration the pain that Edwards would have been experiencing from sitting on the taser barbs that the deputies failed to remove, something that the judge acknowledged later in the order. (Order, p. 28.)
- The judge excused the failure to remove the taser barbs because Edwards was strapped down, but ignored that the video shows several deputies circled around the rolling restraint chair who could have removed the barbs. (Order, p. 28.)
- The judge found that the pepper spray, which was not wiped off, only caused mucus and saliva on Edwards’s face and ignored that pepper spray would cause mucus to run down the throat of someone who is strapped in a restraint chair with his head tilted back, gasping for air. (Order, p. 31, 47.)
- The court reasoned that because Edwards made no “intelligible complaints” about the effects of the pepper spray, that the spray and failure to decontaminate did not rise to a violation of his constitutional rights. The judge disregarded that Edwards may have had difficulty speaking due to the effects of the pepper spray and that the deputies had placed a spit hood on Edwards, leaving him alone in a room where no one could hear possible complaints. (Order, p. 30.) Further, it should be noted that since there is no audio on the jail video; there is no record of whether Edwards asked for help.
What happened to Veteran Edwards is a perfect example of why police immunity – aka, qualified immunity – needs to be abolished. Qualified immunity was put in place so officers could feel free to do their jobs without being sued. But qualified immunity is being abused too often – especially when no one is held accountable for beating, tasing, pepper-spraying, spit-hooding, and strapping a citizen into a restraint chair forcing him to sit on taser barbs, until he goes unconscious and ultimately dies.
Say his name: GREGORY EDWARDS
Say it with me: ABOLISH POLICE IMMUNITY – NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE
Thank You For Your Service, Gregory Edwards.
~ Jessica J. TravisOrder granting M4SJ 3-6-23