Last week, the North Brevard NAACP sent a letter to Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey calling for the release of the video showing the jail confrontation that led to the death of a 38-year-old combat veteran in 2018.
But by the end of the week, the president of the NAACP chapter, Jeff Davis, disassociated himself from the letter about the in-custody treatment of Gregory Edwards. The letter had been issued last Wednesday under the North Brevard NAACP letterhead and bore Davis' signature and that of Bill Gary, the chapter’s first vice president and legal chair.
Davis said the electronically generated signature wasn’t approved by him and that as an employee with Brevard County Parks and Recreation, he has a policy against weighing in on any county issues. “That’s not my signature, I didn’t approve that,” Davis told FLORIDA TODAY of the computer-generated signature.
Davis called for the letter to be reissued without his signature, and it was.
The move was unusual but even more so when Titusville Police Chief John Lau confirmed that he’d called Davis to discuss the NAACP letter after receiving a call himself from Sheriff Wayne Ivey asking about it. The letter, which Gary said had been a topic of discussion among local branches of the NAACP, not only appealed to Ivey to release the video of Edwards’ time in jail custody but said doing so could restore a “sense of truth and justice.” It also called for an independent investigation.
After the initial letter emerged Davis received a phone call from Titusville Police Chief John Lau, who himself had gotten a call from Ivey questioning why Davis had signed the letter. The reason: on June 8, Ivey tapped Lau to bring together Black leaders and ministers from North Brevard to a hastily-called meeting to discuss the Edwards case as it was drawing renewed local attention in the wake of national protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Davis declined to attend that June 8 meeting, Lau said, because of his perception that his attendance could cause a conflict of interest due to his county job. Now, Ivey wondered, Lau said, what had changed. “It sounded like (Davis) said one thing one time and another, another time. The sheriff didn’t put me up to (the call). Ivey told me, ‘I thought you said he didn’t come because of a conflict of interest,’” Lau recounted.
Davis initially told FLORIDA TODAY that he did not receive calls from anyone in law enforcement discussing the case after the NAACP letter was released. Later, when asked specifically about the Titusville police chief contacting him about the letter, Davis said, “that’s none of your business.” Lau said that the NAACP letter could have "jammed (Davis) up" because it was likely a conflict of interest.
“I wouldn’t do anything different," Lau said about calling Davis to ask about the NAACP letter. "It was nothing to do with me as a police chief. All I’m doing is bringing it to him...It has nothing to do with the city."
Calls to Titusville City Manager Scott Larese were not returned. Sheriff Ivey did not respond to inquiries about Lau's statements. Lau said the sheriff called him after seeing the letter because Lau happened "to be the guy rallying up a couple of leaders from North Brevard," for that June meeting. Lau has worked closely with members of the Black community, participating in marches and holding meetings to discuss concerns about police tactics.
Gary, former president of the branch, would not comment on Davis’ retraction or the phone calls between Ivey and Lau or Lau's contact with Davis. But he said the branch, founded by slain civil rights leaders Harry and Harriette Moore, is still asking Ivey to release the jail video from the Edwards’ case as an act of transparency.
"This came from us in an effort to help the (Edwards) widow, to help her see the video," said Gary, who said the branch sent a copy of the letter to the state conference of the NAACP as a courtesy.
Since Edwards' death, the case has been investigated by Brevard County Sheriff's Office and reviewed by the state attorney. After calls grew in the community for an independent investigation earlier this summer, Ivey invited the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct a review, while at the same time a state medical examiner panel was reviewing the autopsy.
The review by FDLE concluded last month there was no need for a further investigation into Edwards' death. Similarly, the state Medical Examiner Commission panel convened by a complaint lodged by Edwards' widow found nothing was illegal or unprofessional about Edwards' autopsy.
But community calls for the video to be released persist. Ivey has refused, citing security concerns and saying it would put his deputies at risk. FLORIDA TODAY is suing for the video's release.
The surveillance footage covers multiple camera angles at the Brevard County Jail Complex in Sharpes.
The video is supposed to show Edwards, who was suffering from PTSD, before, during and after his struggle with at least seven deputies who used their fists, knees, pepper spray, and a taser to subdue the former combat medic as he resisted being booked into the jail and knocked a deputy to the floor. The video might also show the initial medical response to Edwards who was left unattended and found unresponsive.
Edwards died the next day at Rockledge Regional Medical Center.