Geography: North Carolina

Court: US District Court - Eastern District of North Carolina

Claim(s): Fourth Amendment Excessive Force, Failure to Intervene 

Case Summary

On March 2, 2022, Edwards arrested and transported Gary Thomas, Jr., 32, to Washington County courthouse where he roughly removed a handcuffed Mr. Thomas from his patrol car and pushed him to the ground face-down in the courthouse parking lot as fellow former Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Mizelle stood by and watched. Mid-assault, Edwards also removed his body-worn camera and placed it in the trunk of his car.

When Mr. Thomas’s family arrived to post bail, his aunt Mary Moore, 57, attempted to record the incident. Edwards attacked Ms. Moore, who is a disabled grandmother, punching her in the face with a closed fist. He then handcuffed Ms. Moore, pushed her to the ground, and continued his assault of Mr. Thomas. He placed his knee on Mr. Thomas’s back with the full weight of his body, dragged him on the ground, and threw him down the front steps of the courthouse, causing him to hit his head against brick. When Plymouth Police Department Officers arrived, they failed to intervene despite repeated requests from the family for help.

A video of the violent incident, which was widely disseminated on social media and received national press coverage, drew comparisons to George Floyd who was killed when an officer kneeled on his neck as he lay face down, the same dangerous method Edwards used to restrain Mr. Thomas.

Eight days later, WCSO announced in a Facebook post that Edwards had been fired following an internal investigation. Edwards had multiple prior instances of using excessive force while employed by WCSO, for which he received no coaching, discipline, or other corrective action.

He has not been decertified and continues to be employed as a law enforcement officer in North Carolina. The other deputy and police officers who were present and failed to intervene have not been disciplined or reprimanded.

Ms. Moore continues to suffer from anxiety, fear for her life, mental anguish, insomnia, and a fear of law enforcement. In an effort to avoid possible interactions with law enforcement and any further mistreatment, she rarely leaves her home.

The National Police Accountability Project and Littlejohn Law are suing Washington County, Sheriff Johnny Barnes of Washington County, Chief Willie Williams, and the Town of Plymouth for their failure to ensure law enforcement comply with constitutional and statutory standards, Edwards for his abuse of Ms. Moore and Mr. Thomas, and Mizelle for his use of force on Mr. Thomas and failure to intervene, as well as those police officers who failed to intervene.

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