KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Following the death of Lisa Edwards in police custody and the release of videos showing how officers interacted with her before her death, some have raised questions about why officers were not charged or what lead up to the situation. The following is a timeline of information relating to the situation.
Before Feb. 4, 2023
Edwards’ son and daughter-in-law shared that Edwards moved from Tennessee to Rhode Island around Christmas time in 2018 before she had a stroke in August 2019. This stroke left her physically disabled and she was unable to use her left side, according to her family. A release from the District Attorney mentioned that Edwards was wheelchair-bound.
Edwards flew from Rhode Island, where she was in a nursing home, to Knoxville, and during the flight, she began complaining of abdominal pain, according to the Knox County District Attorney. A release from the DA’s office said that once the plane landed at McGee Tyson Airport, she was taken by paramedics to Blount Memorial Hospital, where she was diagnosed with constipation before she was discharged.
Edwards sought additional treatment at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, where she was admitted and observed overnight, according to the DA’s office.
Around 6:55 a.m., Edwards was discharged from Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, but she refused to leave the hospital, the DA’s office said. According to the release from the District Attorney, Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center security officers issued Edwards a trespass warning for “Disruptive Behavior, Trespassing” before calling the Knoxville Police Department.
A spokesman for the Knoxville Police Department said that around 7:40 a.m., officers were dispatched to Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in reference to a woman who was discharged and refusing to leave the hospital. The DA said that the security officers told Knoxville Police Officers that Edwards had been evaluated, discharged, and was refusing to leave. After officers asked Edwards to leave and she repeatedly refused, they decided to arrest her for trespassing, the DA’s office said.
According to Knoxville Police, Edwards was not handcuffed and she was placed in the back of a police cruiser. The District Attorney’s release stated that officers called for a transportation wagon to take Edwards, but they were unable to load her into the wagon because of her mobility issues. After this, Knoxville officers called a cruiser so that Edwards could be more easily loaded.
The District Attorney’s release said that when Edwards was being taken to the Roger D. Wilson detention facility, the officer transporting her stopped to deal with another motorist and saw that she had become unresponsive. When the officers noticed that she was unresponsive, he called for an ambulance, which took Edwards back to Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center and she was placed on Life Support.
Knoxville Police released to the media that a 61-year-old woman became unresponsive while in their custody and that she had been taken to Fort Sanders where she was in critical condition. Knoxville Police said that the District Attorney’s Office and the TBI had been notified and that an internal administrative review would be conducted by the Internal Affairs Unit to see if department policies or procedures were violated. The release from Knoxville Police also stated that three officers and a transportation wagon driver were placed on routine administrative leave.
Edwards died at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Knoxville Police released in an email that the woman who went unresponsive while in the custody of Knoxville Police officers died the evening of Feb. 6.
📧 Have breaking come to you: Subscribe to News 2 email alerts →
An autopsy was conducted at the Knox County Regional Forensic Center according to the release from the District Attorney’s office. It was released on Feb. 21.
The District Attorney’s office said in a press release that Edwards died of natural causes, specifically from an “ischemic stroke due to atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.” The autopsy report also mentioned that hypertensive cardiovascular disease, morbid obesity, chronic alcohol abuse, acute bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease significantly contributed to her death.
The DA’s release said that the medical examiner determined that the officers did not cause Edward’s death, stating:
“Multiple law enforcement videos were reviewed to gather additional context surrounding
Ms. Edwards’ death. From a review of these videos, it is evident that at no time did law
enforcement interaction cause or contribute to Ms. Edwards’ death. Specifically, Ms.
Edwards was not beaten by the police, she was never subdued, there was no physical
struggle between law enforcement and Ms. Edwards, and there was no restraint asphyxia.
Rather, Ms. Edwards went into cardiac arrest in the back of a police cruiser due to a
combination of her natural diseases.”
Because of this, the DA determined no criminal charges would be filed according to the release.
Knoxville Police released the relevant video of Edwards’ arrest. The release from Knoxville Police that linked to the video explained that the video only included the most pertinent video to better inform the public of the circumstances. The involved employees were also identified in the release.
The video was released by Knoxville Police on YouTube and is available here. Please note, the video contains graphic content and may be difficult to watch.
The video shows officers interacting with Edwards before she was arrested, officers placing her in the back of the cruiser, and her in the back of the police cruiser. In the video, Edwards can be heard saying that she cannot walk and saying that she was going to pass out, asking for help, wheezing, and sounding confused.
Edwards’ son and daughter-in-law spoke with News 2’s sister station, WATE, saying Knoxville Police were “negligent” with “no respect for human life.”
August Boylan, Edwards’ daughter-in-law, said she watched the video released by police with the Knox County District Attorney, and described the situation as “absolutely horrible.”
“If I treated someone the way they treated her, I’d be in jail right now heading to prison,” Tim Boylan, Edwards’ son, said. “Why are they not? I have no idea.”
Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center stated in an email that it was continuing its investigation. The following statement was released by Fort Sanders:
“The hospital has been in contact with Ms. Edwards’ family and expressed our sorrow soon after their loss. Although we cannot comment on specific details, patients are not discharged from the emergency room unless they are stable. We have just seen the Knoxville Police Department’s body cam footage and are continuing our investigation.”
Knoxville activists protested Edwards’ treatment in front of the Knoxville City-County Building. Edwards’ brother, Brad Cox, attended the gathering, where he described his sister as selfless.
“She loved me. She never drove, but I live in Newport and if I would’ve called her and told her I was in trouble, she would’ve walked, crawled or whatever to get to me. She was just that way,” Cox said.
One man described the officers’ action as “brutal indifference.”
Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen explained to WATE why charges were not filed against the Knoxville Police officers and transportation wagon driver. Allen shared that the police videos were taken into consideration before determining Edwards’ cause of death, however, there was not proof to prosecute a case.
“Let me be clear that in no way do I condone the actions of the officer. I believe that what I saw on that video showed officers that displayed a gross lack of compassion, a gross lack of empathy and am in no way condoning the way Lisa Edwards was treated,” Allen said.
Allen also added that the hospital cannot be criminally charged with anything from the case, however, the behavior on the part of the hospital could be looked at if a civil lawsuit.
Knoxville Police Chief Paul Noel issued a statement via email in which he shared he was disturbed and embarrassed by what he saw in the video.
“My expectation is that our officers treat every person they encounter, regardless of the context or situation, with respect, dignity and basic decency. We should also take pride in helping those who need it,” Noel said.
In his statement, Noel said that he went to headquarters as soon as he was notified of the situation to meet with the Field Operations Commander, Central District Commander, the Investigations Bureau Leadership Team and members of the Internal Affairs Unit. After reviewing the videos, he personally contacted DA Charme Allen and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David Rausch.
Former Knoxville Police Chief and Director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services Phil Keith told News 2’s sister station that a lack of medical training for police and missteps by Fort Sanders contributed to the vents that lead to Edwards’ death.
“I think the officers responded to the level they were trained for medical response. The language … they were never trained to use that kind of language,” Keith said.
Edwards’ death has been heavily discussed online since the video was released by Knoxville Police, especially on Twitter with the hashtag #JusticeForLisaEdwards and on Tiktok with the hashtag #LisaEdwards. Edwards’ death has also been brought up on Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit. Some users commented on multiple unrelated posts on the Knoxville Police Department’s Facebook page.