Maquoketa, IA — The parents of a 22-year-old man who was killed while in police custody last year filed a wrongful death lawsuit with damning allegations about how and why their son was killed. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the officers were cleared in their son's death and granted qualified immunity, the lawsuit was their only option and now they have seen some sense of closure as the lawsuit has now been settled.
On Tuesday, Maquoketa's city council voted to settle the lawsuit with Drew Edwards' parents for $4.5 million. While no amount of money will ever bring back their son, the size of it indicates that the city knows their officers were in the wrong. What's more, Edwards' family was more concerned with sending a message of police reform than they were with the money.
"The whole reason they kept this going was to make sure this wouldn't happen to anyone else," Dave O'Brien, the family's attorney, said.
Likely aiding in the successful settlement of the lawsuit, the family also hired a law enforcement expert who pointed out that police didn't even have probable cause to arrest Drew Edwards on the fateful day.
According to the expert, William Harmening, who has been in law enforcement for 36 years, when Maquoketa police officers encountered Edwards on June 15, 2019, they did not have sufficient probable cause to arrest him. Nevertheless, he was detained, thrown to the ground, had his face smashed into the dirt, and repeatedly tasered until he went into cardiac arrest and died.
According to police, they responded to a domestic incident that day in which Edwards and a family member were involved. After talking with Edwards for several minutes, the officers tell him that he is under arrest. Edwards appeared to be disoriented and uncooperative, but he did not get violent with the officers at all.
After refusing to be put into handcuffs — for an arrest, according to the expert, that did not have sufficient probable cause to even happen — Jackson County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Schroeder and Maquoketa police officer Mike Owen took Edwards to the ground and tasered him.
Officers were able to get one of Edwards' arms into handcuffs and repeatedly tasered him while attempting to get the other arm. He was tasered continuously for nearly an entire minute until he fell unconscious.
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Edwards was then rushed to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy would later conclude that he died of cardiac arrest. According to the lawsuit, the officers knew Edwards suffered from a heart condition and had been hospitalized twice before after being tasered; once in 2016 and once in 2018.
After an internal investigation, the officers were cleared of any wrongdoing and Edwards' death was ruled justified. According to KWQC, in a response filed in federal court, attorneys for the city, and officers said the actions taken that day were discretionary and done in good faith and that they are entitled to immunity.
They also said the officers “exercised with all due care to conform to the requirements of the law in connection with any and all interactions with Drew Edwards.”
According to KWWL, the family's attorney told them on Wednesday that the Edwards family "fought hard" for the civil case after that finding. The family wanted to send a message to their local officers, hoping to encourage the department to re-train on use of force procedures.
Apparently, it's had some effect and the city is obliging.
"The city has agreed to bringing in an outside person who will review their policies and procedures regarding use of force and restraint, and implement any necessary changes along with necessary training," O'Brien said.
Below is the official statement from the expert and attorney highlighting the reasons for such a large settlement.
• Owen and Schroeder arrested Edwards without first conducting a proper investigation to determine if probable cause existed for the arrest. At the time of the arrest, they had not yet inspected the apartment the assault happened in, had not yet obtained a written statement, had not yet obtained a coherent description of what happened, and had not yet determined with any certainty who was the victim and who was the aggressor.
• Owen and Schroeder decided to arrest Edwards for a minor offense when their training, experience, and department policy demanded that they either issue a non-custodial citation and remove Edwards from the premises or remove Edwards from the premises and later seek a misdemeanor arrest warrant once a proper investigation was completed.
• Owen improperly deployed his Taser at a time when Edwards was calm, only passively resisting, and threatening no one.
• Owen’s nearly continuous use of the Taser for 55 seconds (eight trigger pulls) violated every set of standards guiding the law enforcement community’s use of CEWs (conducted electrical weapons) and was thus reckless and excessive under the circumstances.
• Owen improperly applied his weight to Edwards’ head and neck to restrain him and then maintained that pressure for over 12 minutes, letting up only after Edwards had become unresponsive and was noticeably aspirating.
• Owen, Schroeder, and Zeimet all played a role in the restraint of Edwards, and all failed to follow their training and correct procedure by providing first aid as soon as possible once it became obvious that Edwards was in distress, Harmening wrote in his report.