The family of Drew Edwards this week added a second Maquoketa police officer to the wrongful death lawsuit it filed in October.
Officer Mike Owen was named as a defendant Tuesday in an amended filing. The City of Maquoketa, Jackson County, Maquoketa Assistant Police Chief Brendan Zeimet and Jackson County Chief Deputy Sheriff Steve Schroeder were named as defendants when the lawsuit was filed Oct. 23 in U.S. District Court.
Edwards, 22, died June 15 after an altercation with police when at least one Taser was deployed and he became unresponsive at the corner of Apple and Main streets in Maquoketa.
Dave O’Brien, the Cedar Rapids attorney representing the Edwards family, said he recently received information from the city during the discovery process that led to the amended filing.
“I’ve seen the body and dash camera footage. There are things in those that the city previously withheld from us,” O’Brien said.
“We’ve identified the officer who fired a Taser into Drew,” he said, referring to Owen.
It does not appear from the video, which the Sentinel-Press reviewed, that Schroeder fired his Taser.
Neither Owen, his attorneys, Schroeder nor Zeimet responded to requests seeking comment.
O’Brien said he has not gained access to the electronic data from either Owen’s or Schroeder’s Tasers, which the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI) examined during its now-concluded investigation.
The DCI on Dec. 3 denied the Maquoketa Sentinel Press’ Freedom of Information request for the Taser data.
Depending on the model of the Taser, such information would show the date, time, duration and number of electric shock cycles, said William Moulder, who was the Des Moines police chief for 18 years before retiring and starting a police consulting business in 2002.
Owen’s body camera captured 48 minutes of footage that June morning, beginning with his response just after 7 a.m. to a call about people fighting in an upstairs apartment at 107 W. Apple St. and ending with Edwards being unresponsive on a stretcher and placed in an ambulance.
During the first 26 minutes of the footage, Owen and Schroeder talked with Edwards and told him they were arresting him on a misdemeanor assault charge stemming from a reported fight with a relative.
Edwards verbally resisted the arrest, remaining physically passive but being noncompliant with police instructions.
Owen ordered Edwards to lie on the ground multiple times. When Edwards did not comply, Owen pointed his Taser at Edwards and warned him at least three additional times before discharging it.
After being hit with the Taser, Edwards began to run, eventually falling to the ground while the officers pursued.
After Owen and Schroeder wrestled Edwards onto his stomach and cuffed his left hand, he continued to resist by not allowing his right hand to be cuffed.
Edwards can be heard saying “please stop,” but at the same time he refused to allow his right hand to be cuffed.
The footage showed that Zeimet arrived after a call for backup shortly before the 38-minute mark and helped get Edwards’ right hand cuffed. Minutes later, when the officers turned Edwards over, he was blue in the face and unresponsive. Emergency personnel arrived and began CPR before putting him in an ambulance.
The lawsuit, which is a public record and available on maqnews.org or through the U.S. District Court website, outlines a timeline of the video and complaints about how officers responded.
Edwards was later pronounced dead at Jackson County Regional Health Center.
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.
O’Brien also said he recently viewed the autopsy report, which he said gave greater detail about Edwards’ injuries from the altercation.
The lawsuit now notes multiple bruises and lacerations, as well as a broken left arm. Edwards allegedly had been in a physical confrontation with a relative prior to the police call.
The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that Owen, 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 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, although he arrived at the scene as backup toward the end of the call June 15 after Owen and Schroeder went hand-to-hand with Edwards.
Owen and Schroeder did not call for backup for 20 minutes while they talked to Edwards, O’Brien said. They also discussed the difficulty law enforcement had in subduing the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Edwards in the past, he added.
The city, Zeimet and Owen are represented by Terry Abernathy and Bradley Kaspar of Pickens, Barnes & Abernathy of Cedar Rapids. The county and Schroeder are represented by Jason Palmer and Benjamin Erickson of Bradshaw, Fowler, Proctor & Fairgrave of Des Moines.
In September, Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren and the Iowa DCI 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 Jackson County Attorney Sara Davenport’s request.
The family’s 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, Owen and Schroeder 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 last 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.”
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 Lakehurst Dam after returning home from work on June 14.
The lawsuit lists the plaintiffs as Patricia Steines, Edwards’ 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 in March 2021.
WARNING: The full video from Maquoketa Officer Mike Owen’s body camera depicts the events preceding Drew Edwards becoming unresponsive and his death. Dave O’Brien Law has posted the unedited video in its entirety with the permission of Drew Edwards’ family. Viewer discretion is strongly advised as the video is graphic.