KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A former Knoxville Police Chief provided his insight after watching the video of Lisa Edwards in police custody.
Phil Keith was the former police chief and director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).
According to Keith, a lack of medical training for police and missteps by Fort Sanders contributed to the events leading up to Edwards’ death.
“[Fort Sanders] just called 9-1-1 that’s the easy out, and unfortunately we see that all too often,” Keith said.
Some members of the community have said officers should be able to recognize the signs of a stroke. Keith said during his time at Knoxville Police there was limited training for medical emergencies.
“I never received any formalized training on how to respond to a stroke, the characteristics- yes, but not how to deal with it,” Keith said.
The hospital has also faced backlash for its handling of the situation, and Keith thinks they may be more at fault than the officers involved.
“With the options they had, why did you call 911? Could you not call United Way? There’s a number of agencies, if you called them and said we have this scenario they would have likely responded,” Keith said.
He believes there should be more training but challenges like funding limit those resources for police officers. In his opinion, the officers spoke inappropriately toward someone in distress.
“I think the officers responded to the level they were trained for medical response. The language … they were never trained to use that kind of language,” Keith said.
As far as repercussions for the officers, Keith said it will be up to the department.
“The district attorney has made a ruling on any kind of criminal wrongdoing. I think administratively, the chief will have to make a tough decision,” Keith said.
Knoxville Police Chief Paul Noel released a statement regarding the officers’ actions shown in the body camera footage.
“I was disturbed and embarrassed by what I saw in the video,” Noel said. “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.”
Edwards died the day after officers found her unresponsive in the cruiser. The District Attorney’s Office found that she died from a stroke. Knox County District Attorney Charme P. Allen announced that no charges were filed for the officers involved.
Members of the community expressed disappointment and outrage at the way Edwards was treated by Knoxville officers and staff at Fort Sanders. Activists held a protest at the Knoxville City-County Building.
Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center is conducting an investigation into the incident.