The family of Drew Edwards filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Maquoketa, Jackson County and two law officers Wednesday.
The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court, specifically names Maquoketa Assistant Police Chief Brendan Zeimet and Jackson County Chief Deputy Sheriff Steve Schroeder as defendants.
According to police records, Edwards, 22, became unresponsive after police shocked him with a Taser during a physical confrontation June 15. The Iowa State Medical Examiner’s office ruled the cause of death as cardiac arrest and determined that Edwards had multiple illegal drugs in his system at the time.
The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that Zeimet and Schroeder used excessive force and that they deployed Tasers despite knowing Edwards had a heart condition and that he had previously had an adverse reaction to being tased.
Police had previously tased Edwards during incidents in October 2016 in Maquoketa and again in May 2018 in the Jackson County Courthouse. Edwards was hospitalized after each incident. Police and court records show that Zeimet was involved in all three incidents.
The suit, filed by Cedar Rapids attorney Dave O’Brien, also seeks a court order to require the city of Maquoketa to publicly release all records regarding the death of Edwards, including body camera video and Taser data.
The Maquoketa Sentinel-Press has also filed Freedom of Information requests under Iowa Code Chapter 22 for the same information, which the city’s attorney, Holly Corkery of Cedar Rapids-based Lynch Dallas, P.C., has denied.
Zeimet and Corkery did not respond to efforts to reach them by press time. Schroeder, who returned a phone call, said he would not comment on pending litigation. Maquoketa City Manager Gerald Smith also said he would not comment on pending litigation and referred questions to Corkery.
Jackson County Attorney Sara Davenport said she would not comment on pending litigation. Davenport said she would not represent the county in the case as she is not licensed in federal court. The county’s insurance company has been notified, and an attorney will be named at a later date, she said.
Last month, Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren and the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation found no evidence of criminal conduct by the Maquoketa Police Department and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in the death of Edwards. Ostergren reviewed the case at Davenport’s request.
O’Brien announced shortly after the report came out that he was conducting his own probe on behalf of family members who want more details about how Edwards died while being taken into custody shortly after 7 a.m. June 15 at West Apple Street near downtown.
The lawsuit takes issue with several of the findings released by Ostergren and the DCI and also says that information to support those findings has not been provided.
According to the lawsuit, Schroeder and Zeimet were attempting to arrest Edwards for “a simple assault, not involving a weapon and which did not result in serious bodily injury, i.e., he allegedly punched someone ‘earlier that day.’”
The lawsuit goes on to allege that the officers used unreasonable force and did not use alternatives, such as “batons, pepper spray and/or retreating to make the arrest of a known suspect later.” It also says law enforcement knew Edwards had a history of suffering tachycardia – an elevated heart rate – when tased.
O’Brien told the Sentinel-Press that he has witnesses who heard law officers tease Edwards about using a Taser on him while Edwards was serving a six-month sentence at the Jackson County Detention Center for a probation violation earlier this year.
Prior to the lawsuit being filed, Schroeder had told the Sentinel-Press that he was “not aware of comments (made to Edwards) like that whatsoever, and that’s all I have to say.”
The lawsuit states that “Schroeder was among several Jackson County Deputies who displayed and tested new ‘double barrel’ two-shot tasers in front of Edwards and other inmates.” It also said “other Jackson County jail personnel would ‘tease’ Edwards about being tased, how much it hurt and went so far as to pretend to tase Edwards.”
Edwards was released from jail on Tuesday, June 11, and died four days later. He began working for a local construction company, reporting to work on Thursday, June 13, and Friday, June 14.
His family said he went fishing at the Maquoketa Dam after returning home from work on the evening of June 14.
The lawsuit lists the plaintiffs as Patricia Steines, Edward’s sister and administrator of his estate, and his parents, Walter and Barbara Edwards of Maquoketa.
The lawsuit requests a jury trial, and O’Brien said he would expect that to happen late next year or in early 2021.
He said the family hopes the lawsuit will “educate these law enforcement officers and others that you don’t treat people like this.
“I’ve met with them and they are really upset they lost their son. They knew he wasn’t perfect. He had an illness. He was a drug addict. He needed empathy, not this,” O’Brien said.