20 tasings in 30 mins: No charges for Virginia police officers over man's death in handcuffs
Linwood Lambert was pronounced dead about an hour after he was taken into police custody in South Boston, Virginia, on May 4, 2013, following reports of a noise disturbance at a motel. Police decided to take Lambert, who later admitted he had used cocaine, to a nearby hospital, telling him they were not taking him to jail. When Lambert became agitated and ran out of the police squad car toward the hospital, police subsequently tased him repeatedly despite his pleas for them to stop.
Lambert died after about 87 seconds, total, of tasing by the officers, who acted in violation of the South Boston Police Department's guidelines for taser-use given Lambert was handcuffed the entire time.
Nevertheless, prosecutors have decided against charging the officers, according to an NBC News report citing individuals with direct knowledge of the decision. Prosecutors are expected to announce the findings of their investigation on Tuesday.
"We waited three years to get back to the same place, where these officers are not going to be held accountable for their actions," said Gwendolyn Smalls, Lambert's sister, following a meeting on Monday with prosecutors in which Lambert's family was notified of the decision, which was based on a supposed lack of evidence.
Lambert's family has filed a $25 million civil suit against South Boston police that argues the officers had an obligation to provide Lambert with medical care they promised him. Tom Sweeney, Smalls' attorney in the civil suit, said he "was disturbed to learn" that the Virginia prosecutors involved in the investigation of Lambert's death "reached out to a paid consultant for Taser International analyzing the decision on whether or not these officers acted within the law." The civil case is expected to go to trial early next year, Sweeney told the Associated Press.
According to NBC News sources, Halifax County Commonwealth's Attorney Tracy Quackenbush Martin, wife of a captain at the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office, investigated if the repeated tasings were the final cause of Lambert's death.
The FBI is reportedly conducting a civil rights probe of the incident. Smalls said she welcomes outside investigation as she believes Quackenbush Martin, the local prosecutor, was not partial in the case.
"It's unbelievable, her theory was more supportive to the police officers, because her husband is a sheriff and she works with the police," Smalls told NBC News.
An autopsy originally listed "acute cocaine intoxication" as Lambert's official cause of death, but Sweeney has said the amount of cocaine in Lambert's body was low and the actual cause of death is now clear.
"I think it's obvious on the video tape ‒ here's a man who was tased repeatedly and it caused him to have cardiac arrest," Sweeney said.
Another prosecutor, Michael Herring, Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Richmond, allegedly investigated if the officers acted with criminal intent to harm Lambert, NBC News reported.
Police files obtained by MSNBC indicate South Boston police willingly deceived investigators about Lambert's apprehension and death, though lawyers for the officers have denied those allegations.
Lawyer: Prosecutors reached out to Taser company before declining to charge police for man's death after tasing https://t.co/yOvK3ZbCGU— Ari Melber MSNBC (@AriMelber) May 2, 2016
The night of the incident, South Boston police officers had arrived at a motel where Lambert was staying after other guests complained that the 46-year-old was being too loud. Three officers arrived to find Linwood acting paranoid, hallucinating, and telling them there were bodies buried in the ceiling, they said. The officers decided to take Linwood to a hospital, yet he became agitated, kicking out a police car window at the hospital before running toward the emergency room entrance and crashing into the glass doors, all while he was still handcuffed.
Outside Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital, Corporal Tiffany Bratton, Officers Clifton Mann and Travis Clay chased after Lambert and began tasing him, dashboard camera and hospital surveillance videos obtained by MSNBC show. Lambert’s body stiffened and crashed to the ground. With his hands still cuffed, he was unable to break his fall. The three cops surrounded him, with one ordering him to “stay down,” and Bratton telling him, “Every time you get up, I’m going to pop you.”
The videos reveal Lambert's cries for mercy in the face of three police officers' repeated tasings.
“I didn’t do nothing,” Lambert told them.
“I’m going to light you up again – roll over, roll over, turn over!” Bratton said.
The officers tased Lambert again and again, then placed him in leg shackles.
“I just did cocaine,” Lambert said, leading the officers to tell him he was under arrest for disorderly conduct and destruction of property.
“Why are you trying to kill me, man?” he asked police, before begging them to stop the takings. “Don’t do it, please don’t do it, please, officers.”
Nurses in the hospital said they saw “three officers” tasing Lambert “at one time,” according to hospital records obtained by MSNBC.
The officers then decided to take Lambert to jail even though he was “under obvious respiratory distress. He was perspiring heavily, breathing heavily. It appears he's no longer responsive," Sweeney told CBS News.
The civil suit names South Boston Police Chief James W. Binner and Deputy Chief Brian K. Lovelace, as well as 15 male and 15 female “John Doe” officers. Yet one of the family’s complaints is that key people involved in the case remain a mystery.
The family told AP they are planning a march in South Boston for Wednesday, the third anniversary of Lambert's death.