KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Knoxville Police Department has disciplined multiple officers after an internal investigation identified ‘numerous violations of departmental policy’ during the arrest of Lisa Edwards, who died in custody.
A department spokesperson announced Wednesday that the internal investigation into Edwards’ death after she was arrested outside a Knoxville hospital has been completed. Three officers have been disciplined as a result of the investigation.
- Brandon Wardlaw, the first officer who arrived on the scene, has been demoted from Sergeant to his previous rank of Police Officer
- Officer Timothy Distastio, who was transporting Lisa Edwards to the Roger D. Wilson Facility when she was found unresponsive, was suspended without pay for 10 days
- Officer Adam Barnett was suspended without pay for 4 days
Officer Danny Dugan was not found in violation of any departmental policies and has since returned to his previous assignment.
“When making my disciplinary decision, I considered two significant outside factors that bookended this situation,” Chief of Police Paul Noel said. “The first was that our response and subsequent actions followed a larger systemic failure. Ms. Edwards was at minimum failed by the hospital system and hospital security before we even arrived. We did not help that situation by the way our officers chose to treat Ms. Edwards. The second factor is the Medical Examiner’s autopsy report, which said in no uncertain terms that the actions of law enforcement did not contribute to Ms. Edwards’ death. That determination had to factor into my decision.”
Officers arrested Edwards on the morning of Feb. 5 after she was discharged from Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center and refused to leave. She was treated and released from Blount Memorial Hospital the previous day after reporting abdominal pain during a flight to McGhee-Tyson Airport.
Edwards was being transported in a police cruiser to the Roger D. Wilson Detention Facility by Distastio when he stopped to deal with another motorist and noticed she had become unresponsive. She was taken back to Fort Sanders via ambulance and placed on life support.
She died on February 6.
On February 21, the Knox County District Attorney’s Office announced that Edwards died from an “ischemic stroke due to atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.” Her autopsy mentioned other contributing conditions including hypertensive cardiovascular disease and acute bronchitis.
The DA’s Office determined that law enforcement intervention did not cause or contribute to her death. No criminal charges were filed. The Knoxville Police Department released bodycam footage from the arrest on February 23.
“I remain embarrassed and disturbed by what I saw in the video of our interaction with Ms. Edwards, and we as a department should collectively be embarrassed,” Noel said in a written statement. “The way we spoke to and treated Ms. Edwards was completely unacceptable, and exposed that we have a problem as an organization with how we talk to people. This situation also represented a failure of supervision. Supervisors are held to a higher standard and are there to ensure that the employees under their command are making decisions in the best interest of those we serve and the department.”
“I extend my deepest and most heartfelt condolences to the family of Lisa Edwards. She deserved better from us,” he said.
A Fort Sanders spokesperson announced in April that their own internal investigation found the discharge of Edwards was “clinically appropriate” but said the hospital would be reevaluating its security service contracts and several officers are no longer working with any Covenant Health facility.
The family of Edwards has retained civil rights attorney Devon M. Jacob. Serving as co-counsel to Attorney Benjamin Crump, he has represented the families of George Floyd, Pamela Turner, and many other high-profile cases.
Jacob told WATE that the family plans to file a civil lawsuit against the police and hospital.
Her son and daughter-in-law expressed outrage and disbelief at the treatment of Edwards at the hospital and by police in an interview with WATE.
Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon released the following statement Wednesday.
“First and foremost, I want to once again, extend my condolences to the family of Lisa Edwards. No one should be treated like Ms. Edwards was in her final hours. I remain appalled by the behavior of our officers in their interactions with Ms. Edwards. I expect all employees, especially our police officers, to treat people with dignity and respect, no matter the circumstances. We did not do that on February 5, 2023. I support Chief Noel’s decision to demote and suspend the officers involved. At the same time, more can and will be done to reduce mistakes and misconduct within KPD. All officers must now go through ABLE (Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement) training—this is just one vital step toward strengthening KPD as a community-focused, trusted, and effective police department. I am committed to working with Chief Noel to make sure we continue to take strides in the right direction. We must do better.”Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon