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Ex-officer to testify for family of man killed in traffic stop

A lawsuit claiming wrongful death in the 2012 shooting death of an unarmed motorist by a Jacksonville police officer has taken a surprising twist: The officer who fired the shots will testify against the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

The family of Davinian Williams filed the lawsuit after Officer Jeff Edwards shot the 36-year-old man seven times after pulling him over May 9, 2012, near the intersection of Arlington Road and Arlington Expressway. Edwards said at the time that he thought Williams was reaching for his gun, but no weapon was found in Williams' car.

The lawsuit makes several claims, including: "A documented history within the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office of unjustified shootings carried out by JSO officers, and a practice of allowing such shootings to continue without consequences for the officers involved in said shootings."

Edwards is now sharing his side of the story with the Williams' family attorney and is going to testify when the case goes to trial.

Rufus Pennington, the attorney for Davinian Williams’ family, said there were instances in Officer Edwards past leading up to the shooting that should have triggered new training for the officer to avoid something like this happening.

"Officer Edwards feels grieved that the training policy was changed after the shooting, in response to the shooting," Pennington said. "The city really didn't give him the training prior to shooting (they) should have given him."

That training, according to Pennington is the early-warning system that would have been triggered by multiple instances in the months leading up to the shooting.

"There were five instances of Officer Edwards using force, and it so happens that all of those were against young black males," Pennington said. "According to the early-warning system protocol, if you have three of those incidents within a certain time period, there should be an evaluation and an intervention. That should have occurred here."

Because it didn’t, Pennington believes not only was Edwards negligent, as former Sheriff John Rutherford concluded after an internal affairs investigation, but the agency fostered this problem among other officers.

Rutherford fired Edwards, but the officer was reinstated after arbitration by officers' union, the Fraternal Order of Police, which claimed use of deadly force was justified because Williams refused to obey his orders to put his hands up. 

Shortly after he got his job back, Edwards resigned.

2013 DOCUMENT: JSO Internal Affairs review of Officer Edwards' shooting

Ben Frazier of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville is also calling for additional training of all officers.

"The first thing we need to do is admit that there's a problem," Frazier said. "There's a problem with the regard to the relationship between this department and its black community."

Current sheriff Williams said he met the city's general counsel Thursday morning and was advised not to comment on this case at all because the lawsuit is pending.

Pennington said this is the first time he is aware of an officer involved in a shooting testifying on behalf of the family of the victim.

The case is set to go to trial April 10.