Family of woman who collapsed in KPD custody plans to sue

After the Knoxville Police Department released video footage of how officers treated Lisa Edwards’ during her arrest and eventual collapse in the back seat of a police car, Lisa Edwards’ family members say they are still struggling to piece together exactly what happened β€’ and why.

“We’re still in shock, we keep talking about it,” said August Boylan, who is married to Edwards’ son, Timothy Boylan. “We’re trying to get as much coverage as possible about the fact that this happened to her, it could have been anyone’s family member.”

While Edwards’ family is trying to gather as much information as possible about what happened in her medical emergency and eventual death earlier in February, one thing is definite, Boylan said. They will be pursuing a lawsuit, possibly against the hospitals that treated Edwards and the police department.

Community members shared hundreds of critical Facebook comments about the officers’ conduct during Edwards arrest and many gathered Feb. 27 to hold a vigil in her honor.

Many wondered why officers yelled at the 60-year-old for not cooperating with getting into a police van even though she was physically disabled, and how one even offered her a cigarette when she was begging for her inhaler as she struggled to breathe.

Lisa Edwards with one of her granddaughters

Lisa Edwards with one of her granddaughters

Why was Edwards in Knoxville after leaving Tennessee four years ago?

Edwards, according to her daughter-in-law, was a longtime resident of Knoxville who in 2018 decided she wanted to be closer to her sons and grandchildren and moved to Rhode Island.

“She was very independent,” Boylan said. “She was funny, she was blunt, to the point. She wasn’t afraid to tell you how she felt.”

Edwards initially lived with family but had a stroke in August 2019.

“From then on, she was unable to walk on her own,” Boylan said. “She lost complete use of her left side due to the effects of the stroke.”

Even though Edwards moved into a nursing home due to her physical disability, she remained mentally sharp.

“She wanted to retain as much autonomy over her life as possible,” Boylan said. “I’m a registered nurse, so I had many conversations with her about creating an advanced directive or a living will, so that if she was unable to make her needs known, somebody would be able to do that for her. But she didn’t I don’t want to give up control.”

The pandemic hit soon after Edwards moved into the nursing facility, which meant the family was unable to visit her for a long stretch of time, Boylan said. Eventually, Edwards decided to move back to Knoxville, where she was going to live with a friend.

“It wasn’t a matter of us just sending her there without a plan,” Boylan said. “We respect her decision.”

‘This is about human decency’

The family has questions about what transpired at Blount Memorial Hospital, where Edwards was taken directly from the airport, and at Fort Sanders Medical Center, where she went soon after and was subsequently discharged the next morning.

But from Boylan’s perspective, it should have been clear when Knoxville police officers arrived that Edwards was in serious distress.

“I don’t know what kind of foggy glasses those officers were wearing,” she said. “It was very clear she couldn’t use her left side. Her speech got slurred as things progressed, that’s one of the first signs you see with a stroke. To me it’s very evident.”

Boylan said it shouldn’t have mattered what happened before they arrived.

“She was a person who was visibly in distress, she was stating she was in distress, and they really didn’t do anything to help her,” she said. “They were mocking her, swearing at her. She was dead weight because she couldn’t use her left side.

Lisa Edwards on her wedding day.

Lisa Edwards on her wedding day.

“It’s unbelievable. … Those security officers, they were real pieces of work. They were saying they saw her walk. That’s an absolute lie, there’s no way. She hasn’t walked since August 2019.”

While some community members have expressed outrage and called for the officers to be fired or the hospital staff to be disciplined, Boylan said the family prefers to focus on making sure there are policies in place that are effective and enforced, adding, “This is about human decency. This shouldn’t happen to anybody.”

How did Lisa Edwards end up having a stroke in the back of a police cruiser?

Edwards was arrested Feb. 5 outside Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, where she had been treated. Hospital security staff called police when Edwards declined to move off the property after she was discharged.

Body cam footage shows the first KPD officer arrived just before 8 am, about an hour after Edwards was discharged from the hospital. Edwards told the officer she had a stroke and couldn’t walk, but he responded by telling her the hospital wanted her gone and he was taking her to jail.

The officer told Edwards if she wouldn’t leave, she would be charged with trespassing. A jail transport van was called and officers and the driver physically struggled for 30 minutes to get Edwards up and into the side compartment of the van, leaving her slumped on the sidewalk with her clothes hanging off her body.

Edwards repeatedly told officers and staff she couldn’t breathe or stand, but they responded by telling her she had been medically discharged and was fine. The police decided to take her to jail in a regular police cruiser because it was easier than putting her in a van. Officers struggled to place her in the back seat and never succeeded in getting her into a fully upright position.

At the beginning of the drive, Edwards was gasping and wheezing before she slumped back. Within 10 minutes, she has slipped out of sight and cannot be heard on the cruiser camera. The officer drove another 3 minutes before he stopped to help a motorist. It is another minute before he returns to the vehicle to find Edwards unconscious.

Where does the investigation stand?

Knoxville Police Sgt. Brandon Wardlaw, officer Adam Barnett, officer Timothy Distasio and transportation officer Danny Dugan, who are shown in KPD’s video compilation, are on paid leave during an internal affairs investigation.

“I can’t really give an exact estimate or timeline on the completion of that investigation,” spokesman Scott Erland said. “However, IA investigators are working through that investigation as thoroughly and expeditiously as possible.”

The Knox County District Attorney’s Office said that Edwards died of a stroke and that none of the officers who handled her arrest will face criminal charges. Charme Allen’s office cited a medical examiner’s report stating: β€œat no time did law enforcement interaction cause or contribute to Ms. Edwards’ death.”

Fort Sanders hospital representatives did not respond to questions.

Liz Kellar is a public safety reporter for Knox News. She can be reached by email at

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Family of woman who collapsed in Knoxville police custody to file suit

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