Lawsuit claims excessive force caused death of man in WBR jail

Man’s family alleges excessive force

The family of a Jennings man who died at the West Baton Rouge Parish Jail shortly after he was arrested has filed a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office asserting sheriff’s deputies violated the man’s constitutional rights and used excessive force that led to the man’s death.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court on Tuesday, also accuses Sheriff Mike Cazes of failing to properly train his deputies and provide adequate supervision in the Nov. 26 arrest of Ervin Edwards.

The lawsuit claimed sheriff’s deputies used a stun gun on Edwards, 38, after he had a minor altercation with his girlfriend in the parking lot of the Chevron gas station on La. 415 in Port Allen.

Edwards died at the parish jail around 6 p.m. Nov. 26 where he was being held on resisting arrest and disturbing the peace, according to court documents.

The lawsuit says unidentified sheriff’s deputies used the stun gun on Edwards, which the family’s lawyer thinks may have led to Edward’s death.

“Even if this was a legitimate arrest you don’t have the right to kill someone,” attorney Joel Porter said Wednesday. “He was tased after the deputies were informed about his medical conditions. And not only did they tase him, they beat this man. I can assure you this family wants justice.”

But Col. Richie Johnson, with the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, said Wednesday that the parish’s deputies are not authorized to use stun guns or carry them.

“(Edwards) was tased by an officer from another agency that assisted in the arrest,” Johnson said.

Cazes said authorities are still trying to determine what killed Edwards.

Cazes said his office is awaiting results from an autopsy report from the Jefferson Parish Coroner’s Office. The sheriff said Wednesday that he asked an outside agency to handle Edwards’ autopsy because the West Baton Rouge Parish Coroner is also the prison doctor.

“I wanted to make sure it looked like nothing was being covered up and everything was being handled properly,” he said.

Cazes said Wednesday that the matter is under investigation and he couldn’t give any further details about Edwards’ arrest.

The sheriff added that video footage will dispute many of the claims listed in the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Edwards was traveling with his girlfriend back to Jefferson Parish when he stopped for gas in Port Allen. The couple got into a minor altercation and police were dispatched on the scene around 5:47 p.m. after the clerk at the station called 911.

By the time officers arrived the couple had stopped arguing, the lawsuit states.

However, sheriff’s deputies questioned Edwards anyway because he was wearing sagging pants, the lawsuit reads.

According to the lawsuit, when Edwards became flippant with deputies about his pants the deputies told him he was going to jail.

In the lawsuit it states Edwards jerked away from a deputy and asked, “Why am I going to jail? I didn’t do anything.”

Another deputy grabbed Edwards and threatened to use a stun gun on him if he didn’t submit to police, the lawsuit states.

Edwards’ girlfriend told officers not to shoot Edwards with the stun gun because he had high-blood pressure, had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was deaf in his left ear, which she explained as the reason he spoke so loudly to authorities.

After deputies were able to handcuff Edwards, identified in the lawsuit as weighing more than 300 pounds, he was transported to the parish jail where he died in a padded cell shortly after he arrived, the lawsuit states.

“This was a callous act ... to kill an unarmed man,” Porter said. “I don’t have to wait for an autopsy report. He was alive when he walked into that jail. They beat him, tased him and now they’re trying to cover it up.”