RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The sister of a man who died after three police officers in a small Virginia town repeatedly shocked him with stun guns says the officers should be criminally charged so her family can find justice.
“They need to face the justice system the right way,” said Gwendolyn Smalls, the sister of 46-year-old Linwood R. Lambert Jr., who died in May 2013 while in police custody.
Recently released videos show South Boston officers using stun guns on Lambert multiple times after they took him into custody and brought him to a hospital for a mental health evaluation.
Instead of taking Lambert inside the ER, which was just steps away, police took him to jail, according to the videos, which were first obtained by MSNBC. An ambulance later brought Lambert back to the same hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
No charges have been filed against the officers and they have said their use of force was necessary. Neither department nor the officers’ attorney responded to requests for comment from The Associated Press on Thursday.
Smalls, who saw the videos for the first time this week, said watching her brother die was heart wrenching.
“How do you Taser a restrained person who needed medical attention?” she said.
Lambert’s family filed a $25 million lawsuit in April, accusing the officers of unlawfully arresting him and using “excessive, unreasonable and deadly force.”
The officers said in their response that the stun gun was “an appropriate and necessary use of force alternative to more harmful and lethal options available.”
An attorney for Lambert’s family said the three officers were not disciplined and they have all since been promoted.
The Virginia State Police investigated Lambert’s death at the request of the police chief of South Boston, a town of about 8,000 people in southern Virginia near the North Carolina border. A state police spokeswoman declined to release the results of the investigation, which were turned over to the county’s prosecutor for review in October 2013.
Halifax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tracy Quackenbush Martin said her investigation remains open. She would not say when it might be complete.
“It is imperative to reach the correct decision, and to reach it in a way that instills public confidence,” she said in an email. “I will take as much time as necessary to make certain that my opinion is fully developed and is accurate.”
The officers, who are not identified in the lawsuit, first encountered Lambert when they responded to a noise complaint at a motel, according to court documents. Lambert was acting strangely, telling officers that he stabbed someone and that someone was after him.
The officers handcuffed Lambert, but told him he was not under arrest and that they were taking him to the hospital, according to court documents.
Once there, he kicked out the window and ran from the officers. They shocked him repeatedly in front of the ER doors and he fell to the ground. The officers yelled at Lambert to roll over on his stomach. One said: “I’m going to light you up again.” Another warned he would “pop” him every time he got up.
Lying on the ground, Lambert said: “Why are you trying to kill me, man?”
The officers put Lambert back in the squad car and tell him he is being charged. While he is restrained the in backseat, the officers shock him again.
South Boston Police Department’s guidelines say officers may use stun guns in defense or to “temporarily immobilize” a subject. Their use is no longer justified once that person has been restrained or is under control, according to a copy of the department’s guidelines as of May 2013.
Lambert had several criminal convictions for driving violations and theft, records show.
At one point in the video, Lambert told the officers that he used cocaine, and an autopsy said he died of “acute cocaine intoxication.”
Joe Messa, an attorney for Lambert’s family, called that “laughable” and said the medical examiner’s officer’s would have ruled differently if it had known how many times Lambert had been shocked. Logs from the stun guns showed they were discharged 20 times, although it’s unclear how many hit Lambert, Messa said.
“Anyone who watches this videotape would not think it is outrageous or inappropriate to suggest that what these police officers did was tantamount to murder,” Messa said.
(Photo Source: AP)