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How could KPD officers have treated Lisa Edwards differently? An in-depth look at the internal affairs review

We read through the 892-page internal affairs investigation from the Knoxville Police Department. They flagged numerous policy violations.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Three officers will be disciplined for their treatment of Lisa Edwards and "numerous policy violations," the Knoxville Police Department said.

Edwards, 60, died from a stroke within 36 hours of her arrest. KPD charged her with criminal trespassing after security staff at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center said she refused to leave upon discharge.

The treatment of Edwards sparked international outrage and an internal affairs review. We read through the 892-page document to find answers. 

What policies did they violate? Will they face punishment?

Internal affairs said officers engaged Edwards "in a way that showed disregard for her human dignity and life."

Then-Sgt. Brandon Wardlaw violated the unbecoming conduct, neglect of duty, unsatisfactory performance, treatment of prisoners, courtesy and prisoner transportation (seat belt) policies, records show. He was demoted to his previous rank of police officer.

Officer Adam Barnett violated the unbecoming conduct, unsatisfactory performance, treatment of prisons and courtesy policies, records show. He was suspended without pay for four days.

Officer Timothy Distasio violated the unbecoming conduct, neglect of duty, unsatisfactory performance, treatment of prisoners, courtesy, prisoner transportation (seat belt) and unconscious person policies, records show. He was suspended without pay for ten days.

Senior Transportation Officer Danny Dugan did not violate any policies, the investigation showed. 

Why didn't officers independently verify Edwards' medical condition?

Internal affairs investigators expressed concern over the differing statements from Edwards and the security staff about Edwards' health. 

"We’d been informed by them they work for the hospital there, so we consider them technically an agent of the hospital," Barnett said.

Wardlaw said the hospital wouldn't have given them any information.

"If you get somebody that shows up to the hospital and their buddies throw him out of a car because they’ve been shot and the car takes off and you ask them can you see their cameras, they won’t even let you see their cameras without a warrant," he said. "Anything you want from the hospital, they’re gonna say you need a search warrant and say it's HIPAA."

Could Edwards walk?

Officers told internal affairs they believed she could walk, based on their personal observations and testimony from the FSRMC security staff.

"She was holding more of her weight than if … for somebody that couldn’t walk," Barnett said. "There was no braces or boots or anything on her lower extremities.”

Is it common for people to fake medical conditions?

Barnett told the IAU he's encountered 30 to 40 people in his career faking an illness.  

Dugan told IAU that's "an everyday occurrence" for him as a transport wagon driver.

Why did Barnett offer Edwards a cigarette when she asked for an inhaler?

"Labored breathing or not, some people smoke on oxygen," Barnett said. "I thought if I offer a cigarette, she then may be able to calm down and get herself back together. I actually carry cigarettes in my cruiser and I’ve never smoked a day in my life."

How did the officers perceive Edwards?

Barnett told IAU Edwards was being "passive resistive." He thought she didn't want to go to jail and said that's when he believed her ailments started. 

He did note that he thought her "breathing seemed labored at certain points."

Wardlaw expressed frustration to IAU over Edwards using her inhaler improperly. 

Distasio thought she was faking her medical condition as well, saying, "Nothing seemed out of the ordinary." 

Do they regret the way they treated Edwards?

Internal affairs investigators noted 'throughout the course of [their interviews], not one of them expressly stated any sympathy regarding Ms. Edwards' death."

They did, however, express some remorse over the language they used.  

"There are some things all of us shouldn’t have said in this," Barnett said. “The laughing, you know, I shouldn’t have laughed…. [these comments] can be rendered by the public as not being professional.”

Distasio also felt bad about the comments he made.

"When I see that statement now… I regret making it. She needed… the hospitals should have never discharged her, she needed medical attention," he said. "At the time, we did not know that."

Distasio said he didn't think he was rude or disrespectful, although he acknowledged he could've been nicer. 

Could Edwards have been taken somewhere else besides jail?

Barnett said they could not have taken Edwards to the Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center (BHUCC) because of her passive resistance.

The sidewalk was not an option because Edward became their responsibility once KPD arrived on the scene, he said. 

He also told IAU that Knox Area Rescue Ministries (KARM) would not have been an option because of the temperature and weather. 

Wardlaw recounted his conversation with FSRMC where they told him they couldn't get her a taxi out of the hospital because "the address on your paperwork is the only one they can send you." 

Family members told 10News Edwards had just flown to Tennessee from Rhode Island the day before.

Why did Distasio make a traffic stop while taking Edwards to jail?

Distasio was following the transport wagon when a swerving vehicle nearly struck the wagon "multiple times," the IAU report said. 

"At this point, that driver was a danger to myself, my wagon driver and other people on the road," Distasio said. "I knew immediately I had to get her off the road before she killed someone."

He said he put the woman in the backseat of her car, took her keys and put the car in park. 

"I believe if I didn’t pull [her] over, she would have hurt someone on that road and killed someone," he said. 

What happened once Distasio initiated a traffic stop and checked on Edwards?

Distasio said he thought Edwards was asleep in the back of his cruiser.

"She was at the hospital all day, two hospitals, all night, overnight, so she was probably tired," he said. "She’s a heavier set woman, so movements can make you just… make you tired.”

He checked on her after getting the keys from the reckless driver and noticed she was very pale and didn't appear to be breathing. 

He rubbed her sternum, at Dugan's suggestion. Dugan said he was unaware that Edwards wasn't breathing.

"I've never given CPR to someone. I’ve given Narcan tons of times," Distasio said. "I know when someone needs Narcan, but I’m not really… I’m not comfortable with giving CPR.”

Why didn't they use a seat belt on Edwards?

“The seatbelt policy has been changed, that you will seatbelt prisoners into the vehicle if the circumstances allow," Barnett told IA. "With special considerations, obviously, officer safety and arrestees." 

He said Edwards wasn't his prisoner.

What do the officers think of their interaction with Edwards?

Barnett said he believed they did their jobs fine "other than some of the words they could have took back, or laughing."

"Looking back, we can always do better on every call," he said. "It’s easy to Monday-morning quarterback it. I believe words could have been taken away, but my conduct on the scene was fine.”

Wardlaw felt they should not have been put in this situation.

"Maybe the department should have something in place how we handle these things and we won't be in these situations, because this should have been a medical situation from the beginning," he said. "We shouldn’t be getting called to clean up other people’s mess.”

How did their actions reflect on KPD?

KPD employees received hundreds of calls and emails, according to internal affairs interviews. 

"Shortly after the video was made public, [I answered] many calls of an accusatory nature," office administrator Marilyn Anderson said. "Some [were] directed at the police department, some [were] directed personally at me saying I was the spawn of the devil and that I should be ashamed of myself for working here.” 

She said she probably received 150 calls, including about 30 from one caller in a single morning.

"There was a kind of a different degree of anger that I’ve traditionally seen. Just the amount and also the vitriol behind the calls, the voicemails, the social media content," spokesperson Scott Erland told IAU. "[It] negatively impacted the reputation of the department. I think it hurt morale, too.”

Emily White with the IAU said she probably answered 200 calls.

The chief's secretary, Juliana LeClair, said she received about 25 calls per day and 213 total emails between February 23 and March 29. 

Most of them were from out of state, she said. A few of them were from other countries, including Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Were their body cameras on the entire time?

Internal affairs investigators asked Barnett why his body camera was not recording when Edwards was brought back to FSRMC after becoming unconscious. 

He said he felt it wasn't necessary because he wasn't encountering members of the public.

"What are the optics, in your opinion? We got this woman that may die as a result of being in our custody, not saying you, you killed her, that’s not what I’m saying, but she may die while she was in our custody, right? Do you think it’s a good look if you turn your camera off when you’re sitting outside of the room she’s being treated in?" IAU asked.

"It does not look good, no," Barnett responded.

Distasio also turned his body camera off at one point. 

"I believe someone said to turn it off for the… so it’s easier for them to go back," he said.

Why did Wardlaw complain to internal affairs?

"I’m getting death threats and nobody from this department has done anything to protect me or my family... I'm complaining," he said. "I’m left out here high and dry with no idea what’s going on about this whole thing."

How did FSRMC security assist KPD?

Internal affairs expressed concern that the officers allowed non-KPD civilians to assist once Edwards was under arrest and therefore, their responsibility.

If anything were to happen, they said, KPD could be liable. 

Barnett said most hospitals do aid or assist them. 

"If you’re by yourself and you need a hand, they will help you," Distasio said.

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