‘I am going to die’ | KPD releases body camera footage of incident involving in-custody death

The Knoxville Police Department released footage Thursday of several officers’ interaction with Lisa Edwards, the 60-year-old woman who died in KPD custody.
The Knoxville Police Department released footage Thursday of several officers’ interaction with Lisa Edwards, the 60-year-old woman who died in KPD custody.
Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 3:38 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2023 at 4:36 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The Knoxville Police Department released footage Thursday of several officers’ interaction with Lisa Edwards, the 60-year-old woman who died in KPD custody.

Previous Coverage: DA: Woman in KPD custody died of stroke, no charges to be filed

KPD officials said that the officers involved were Sergeant Brandon Wardlaw, Officer Adam Barnett, Officer Timothy Distasio and Transportation Officer Danny Dugan. Those employees are still on administrative leave, as an internal investigation is still ongoing. That investigation will determine whether the officers violated KPD policy, according to Communications Manager Scott Erland.

What happened?

KPD and the District Attorney’s Office have both released timelines of what happened. What follows is their account of the situation.

Edwards was taken into KPD custody for refusing to leave Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. She had come to Fort Sanders the day before, complaining of abdominal pain and being diagnosed with constipation at Blount Memorial Hospital. After spending the night at Fort Sanders, she was discharged around 7 a.m. on Feb. 5.

After she refused to leave, hospital security called KPD to have her evicted from the property. The responding officer, Wardlaw, decided to take her into custody after speaking with her. Wardlaw, along with several other officers, then tried to put her into a KPD wagon, but decided it was too high off the ground for Edwards, who was in a wheelchair, to get into.

From there, the officers called in Distasio’s patrol car, which they loaded Edwards into. On the way to a detention center, Distasio responded to a reckless driver. While he was stopped, he noticed that Edwards had become unresponsive and an ambulance took her back to Fort Sanders. From there, Edwards was placed on life support before she died.

An investigation by the DA’s office found that Edwards died of a stroke, clearing the officers of any criminal charges.

That DA investigation also found that Edward had been having multiple health issues leading up to her interaction with KPD, including a previous stroke.

The body camera footage

The video begins by showing Wardlaw respond to Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. There, Warsaw speaks to Edwards, who was refusing to leave the hospital because she claimed she had shattered her ankle.

From there, Wardlaw calls a KPD wagon to transport her to jail after asking if Edwards has someplace to go. Several officers then try to move her into the wagon, but she falls multiple times and says she is unable to get into the wagon, which sits high off the ground.

At one point, an officer is heard telling Edwards “now you’re starting to piss me off,” calling her “dead weight.”

Also during the interaction, Edwards claims she has breathing issues and repeatedly asks for an inhaler, which officers claim she does not have. At one point, an officer digs in Edwards’ purse, presumably to look for her inhaler, pulls out a pack of cigarettes and asks Edwards “do you want a cigarette?”

Throughout this entire interaction, officers are shown trying to lift her into the wagon, but she repeatedly falls. The officers discuss this throughout the video, saying she’s acting.

“It’s all an act,” Warsaw says to one officer.

“We all know that s---,” that officer responds. “But unfortunately, if she goes over and can’t breathe-”

“That act is going to turn into a problem,” a third officer finishes

As Edwards lies on the ground outside the wagon, she is heard telling the officers “I am going to die” and “I am going to have a stroke.”

While Edwards is on the ground, the officer who drives the wagon is heard having a discussion with another officer, saying that Edwards will not fit in the wagon and that could have health affects.

“She’s saying she can’t breathe. If she falls over either way and she can’t breathe,” he said. “If she dies, that’s on me. I’m not willing to take that risk.”

Once the cruiser arrives, the officers are shown dragging Edwards into the back seat, failing to sit her up. When she asks to be sat up, an officer tells her “shut up.” Directly after that, an officer mentions sitting her up in the back of the cruiser, but does not do so. Instead, the video captures the officers passing around a can of Lysol to spray on themselves.

The cruiser camera footage

After the interaction at the hospital, the footage switches from body camera to a rear-facing camera showing the back seat of the cruiser.

Inside the cruiser, before Distasio leaves, Edwards is heard laying on the back seat saying “I can’t breathe,” “they are going to kill me” and asking to be sat up. The video also captures Edward’s labored breathing. This is while the officers are speaking outside the cruiser, passing around the Lysol.

Eventually, an officer does help Edwards sit up, but directly before, other officers are heard laughing.

On the way to the detention center, Distasio is heard asking Edward’s “are you okay?” Her response is unintelligible. At this point, Edwards has fallen down again and repeatedly asks to be sat up.

Edwards eventually slips from view and Distasio asks multiple times “are you good?” and “are you okay?” Edwards does not respond.

Shortly after, Distasio pulls onto the shoulder of the interstate he is driving on and opens the back door of the cruiser. He asks Edwards “can you get up?” before shouting to the officers in the wagon, who were following him, “she’s not responding.” He then tells Edwards to sit up again, but she is not conscious.

“I don’t know if she’s faking it or what, but she’s not answering,” Distasio is heard saying as he lifts Edwards’ head by the hair.

That is where KPD’s footage ends.

Going forward

Erland told WVLT News that an internal investigation is still ongoing.

“The internal investigation will work to determine if any departmental policies or procedures were violated during the incident,” Erland said. “The Knoxville Police Department conducts thorough and detailed administrative reviews to ensure that the actions of its officers and employees meet the department’s high standards. The KPD extends its deepest and most heartfelt condolences to the family of Lisa Edwards.”

Additionally, Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon provided a statement to WVLT News, as follows:

First and foremost, I send my condolences to the family of Lisa Edwards. As is the case for all in-custody deaths, Internal Affairs will conduct an investigation to determine if the officers followed all of KPD’s policies and procedures. Once that investigation is complete, Chief Noel will determine what additional actions, if any, may be warranted.

Indya Kincannon, Knoxville Mayor

The raw video

The raw video is available below. Viewers should use caution when watching, however, as some of the content is graphic in nature.

Lisa Edwards, 60, was arrested at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center by the Knoxville Police Department.