Breaking News
More () »

'Disturbed and embarrassed by what I saw' | KPD chief gives statement after 60-year-old woman dies following arrest at Fort Sanders hospital

No charges will be filed against the officers. However, KPD said they are still on paid leave as it investigates whether they broke department policy.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Update (2/28)

On Tuesday, Feb. 28, Knoxville Police Department Chief Paul Noel released a statement four days after KPD said it was conducting an internal investigation on four officers after 60-year-old Lisa Edwards became unresponsive in the back of a cruiser during an arrest and died the next day.

His statement is available below.

“As soon as I was notified of the situation involving Lisa Edwards, I went directly to headquarters from church to meet with the Field Operations commander, Central District commander, the Investigations Bureau leadership team and members of the Internal Affairs Unit. We reviewed the now-publicly released videos from that situation, which were incredibly difficult to watch.

“After reviewing the video, I personally called District Attorney General Charme Allen and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David Rausch to brief them on that situation. I also notified Police Advisory & Review Committee Director Tiffany Davidson. The involved employees were also placed on administrative leave.

“We cooperated fully with the TBI’s investigation. We also made a commitment to release the video, because we felt strongly that the public both needed and deserved to see it.

“I was disturbed and embarrassed by what I 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.

“The involved employees have been on admin leave since February 5 and a comprehensive internal review of the case is underway.

“Now that the TBI's criminal investigation has concluded and District Attorney General Allen announced that her office would not pursue criminal charges, our Internal Affairs investigators are working to complete that investigation as quickly as possible without compromising the integrity or fairness of that investigation. The results and outcome of the investigation will be released as soon as it has been completed and approved by myself and the chain of command.”  

Original story

The Knoxville Police Department said it is conducting an internal investigation on four officers after a 60-year-old woman became unresponsive in the back of a cruiser during an arrest and died the next day. 

The Knox County District Attorney General's Office said it will not be filing charges against the officers who arrested the woman.

According to District Attorney General Charme Allen's office, an autopsy showed Lisa Edwards died of natural causes from an ischemic stroke and “that at no time did law enforcement interaction cause or contribute to Ms. Edwards’ death.” 

According to the original arrest report, officers responded to Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center on Feb. 5 after hospital security reported Edwards for trespassing, saying she was outside of the emergency room and refused to leave the property after she was discharged.

"To have an uncooperative person, it is common. It's difficult, very stressful, and you have to adapt to every single situation," said attorney Don Bosch, who is representing two of the police officers involved in the incident.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said it learned Edwards had flown Feb. 4, 2023, to Knoxville from Rhode Island, where she'd been in a nursing home. She'd previously suffered a stroke that left her in a wheelchair.

"It affected the left side of her body, she was not able to open and close her hand walk, none of that," said Edward's daughter-in-law, August Boylan.

The TBI said paramedics were sent to McGee Tyson Airport that day to pick her up because she had complained of abdominal pain during the flight. She was taken to Blount Memorial Hospital and diagnosed with constipation before the medical staff released her.

Investigators said she then sought additional treatment that same day at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, saying she was observed overnight before being discharged around 6:55 a.m. Feb. 5. It was at that point the TBI said she refused to leave and was arrested for trespassing.

On Thursday, the Knoxville Police Department posted portions of video of the arrest taken from several body cameras as well as the camera in the cruiser she became unresponsive in. The video is unlisted on KPD's YouTube page -- meaning it can only be viewed from a direct link. KPD posted a news alert to social media that contains the video link. You can watch it below.

***Note: The video may be disturbing to viewers.***

What can be seen in the video

In the video, Lisa Edwards is seen in a wheeled chair asking for help from officers who responded in the hospital parking garage, saying she didn't know what to do or where to go.

Edwards told the officers several times she had a stroke, saying hospital security guards and staff had "beat" her up and dragged her out. 

The initial responding officer, Sgt. Brandon Wardlaw, replied, "Well, they said they want you gone, so you gotta go. This is their property."

"I can't even get out of here," Edwards responded. "I can't even walk."

The woman continued to say she couldn't walk because of her stroke and also said her ankle had been shattered or twisted at various points in the video.

The officer asked if she had given hospital staff "problems" before talking to one of the hospital security guards. The guard the officer talked to said Edwards was "a big pain in the ass inside of the hospital" in the footage, saying she had defecated "all over the place."

The guard said she was discharged after being cleared by a doctor and told them she didn't have any place to go. Wardlaw replied that officers would try to "coax her into leaving."

Wardlaw went back to Edwards, explaining to her she had been discharged from the hospital and that she needed to leave the premises.

"They want you gone," he said. "I understand you say you got some problems going on. You've got to find a way to get out of here. I don't want this to turn into a situation where you have to go to jail."

"Pretty much the whole thing was difficult to watch," said Boylan, who was reacting to the video.

in the video, Edwards continued to try and explain her situation and how she couldn't walk.

Wardlaw eventually said he was "done talking to her" because she was "talking nonsense," saying "you'll go to jail."

The video then changes perspective to another responding KPD officer's body camera, Officer Adam Barnett. In that video, officers are seen trying to put her in a police wagon to take her to jail. 

Edwards had trouble stepping up into the wagon and eventually appeared to become distressed and have trouble breathing. 

"I can't breathe," she said as she sat down on a step that leads up to the wagon bench.

As the video goes on, Edwards appeared to struggle to breathe.

"Stop. It's not working," one of the officers said to her. "We're not doing this."

The officers lifted her back up to her feet, and she continued to appear distressed before laying down on the step. One officer became audibly angry toward her and began cussing, and Edwards asked for her inhaler. Officers told her she didn't have an inhaler, saying they didn't find one before trying again to put her into the wagon.

"Use your legs. Now you're starting to piss me off," the officer said.

The struggle to get her into the wagon continued for several minutes as officers accused her of pretending to have trouble.

"I'm going to pass out," Edwards said.

"You're not going to pass out," one of the officers said. "You know what... go on and get in there and pass out and be done with it. This is all an act."

Boylan, once again, became frustrated with the video.

"The most shocking is just how they treated her so horribly as a human being," Boylan said. "She says multiple occasions, you know, I can't breathe, you know, help me, help me up. And they're just, you know, kind of sitting there mocking her saying, you know, you're faking this."

In the video, Edwards asked again for her inhaler, and one of the officers told her the medicine portion was missing from the plastic piece he found.

"Listen. These are going to be your options. You're going to get up and you're going to sit here, or I'm going to stuff you in the floor," an officer said.

Edwards appeared to continue to struggle to breathe as they tried to position her on the floor.

"You can't stuff her in there, Brandon. That's not going to work," one of the officers said. 

On another camera perspective, one of the officers begins searching Edwards' luggage and purse for her inhaler medicine. The officer said he found the medicine in the luggage. The officers appear to hand it to her, but one said on camera she wasn't using it.

The officers talked about possibly putting her in a different spot in the back of the wagon, but the transportation officer, identified as Officer Danny Dugan, worried that it would be difficult to get her out and expressed concern.

"She's saying she can't breathe. If she falls over either way... if she can't breathe, if she dies, that's on me. I'm not taking that risk," Dugan said.

Dugan then suggested putting Edwards into the back of an inbound cruiser that was also heading to the detention center because it was lower to the ground.

Eventually, the cruiser arrives and officers put her in across the back seat on her back. The video switched to the cruiser camera, where Edwards appeared to be wheezing and struggling to breathe. She repeated "sit me up" several times.

One of the officers pulled her up before she fell on her back again, and officers appeared to become frustrated and said she had urinated in the back seat. They continued to claim she was acting before closing the door. 

Edwards fell on her back with her head against the door, asking for help getting back up, saying she couldn't breathe as an officer drove away from the hospital to the detention center. 

The officer claimed she was "fine" and continued to drive as her wheezing grew louder. 

"Pull me up. I can't breathe," she said. "Let me up. Please."

A few minutes later the officer asked how Edwards was doing. She gave a response that was unintelligible as she wheezed. The officer asked again multiple times a few minutes later as he drove on the interstate, but no response could be heard from Edwards in the video.

The officer eventually pulled over to deal with another driver on Interstate 640, according to the TBI's report. The TBI said that's when officers noticed she had become unresponsive. 

"I don't know... she's not responding back here now," an officer said after opening the back of the cruiser.

The officer shouted at her a few times before calling over the radio for an ambulance. He then yelled for her to sit up as he tried to pull her up, but she appeared to be unconscious.

"I don't know if she's faking it or what... but she's not answering," he said.

The officer then tried to wake her by shouting and jostling her. The video ends at that point.

Edwards was supposed to be taken to the Roger D. Wilson Detention Facility to be booked on trespassing charges that morning, KPD said. She was instead taken back to Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center and placed on life support, where she died on Feb. 6. 

On Friday, a spokesperson for Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center provided the following statement:

"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."

In its initial release, KPD said officers did not handcuff her or use force on her while taking her into custody. The TBI's report said KPD officers were unable to load her into a police wagon due to her mobility issues but said they were able to load her into the back seat of a cruiser because it was lower to the ground.

Dr. Christopher Lochmuller with the Knox County Regional Forensic Center conducted the autopsy on Edwards, saying she died of natural causes -- namely an ischemic stroke due to atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. The doctor said he reviewed law enforcement video from the incident, saying the officers' actions ultimately did not contribute to her 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,” the DA's office said.

Four officers were placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation, according to KPD. Those officers were identified as Wardlaw, Barnett, Dugan, and Officer Timothy Distasio.

Even though they are not facing charges in the case, the officers remain on paid leave as KPD conducts an internal investigation to determine if any department policies or procedures were violated and to ensure "that the actions of its officers and employees meet the department’s high standards."

"In this instance, based upon the findings of the medical examiner, there was no criminal act on the part of the individuals involved that caused Edwards’ death. As determined by the medical examiner, Edwards died of natural causes. For these reasons, Gen. Allen concluded that the officers involved share no criminal culpability in the death of Lisa Edwards."

Edwards' family said she was disabled and couldn't have left the hospital on her own even if she wanted to.

"She had a stroke. She cannot walk. She needs a wheelchair," said August Boylan, her daughter-in-law. "Nothing makes sense to us, because we don't have all of the information of what happened."

Boylan said earlier in February her mother-in-law had four heart attacks before dying in the hospital later that evening. 

"Everybody has things that happened to them in their life and nobody's perfect," Boylan said. "But, everybody deserves to have dignity and respect."

Before You Leave, Check This Out