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No charges against officers in Lambert’s death, family told

South Boston News
Gwendolyn Smalls, left, with her father Linwood Lambert Sr. during a recent protest march in South Boston. To the right is the Rev. William Avon Keen of Danville. / May 02, 2016
Prosecutors met with representatives of the family of Linwood Raymond Lambert Jr. for nearly four hours on Monday to reveal their decision not to charge any of the South Boston police officers who were involved in Lambert’s death nearly three years ago.

Gwendolyn Smalls, Lambert’s sister and the executor of his estate, made that assertion following a Monday afternoon meeting in Richmond with Tracy Quackenbush Martin, Halifax County Commonwealth’s Attorney, and Michael Herring, Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Richmond, who has assisted Martin with her review of Lambert’s controversial death and the role of South Boston police who took him into custody on the morning that he died, on May 4, 2013.

The outcome of the meeting has been reported separately by MSNBC. Last year, the network aired video of officers subduing Lambert with repeated use of Taser weapons outside the emergency room of Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital.

Martin was not immediately available for comment, but Smalls said she was told that the prosecutors would release their findings “within 24 hours” — a timeframe that would fall on Tuesday.

Of the decision not to bring charges, Smalls was blunt: “Unbelievable.

“She [Martin] waited three years, three hours and 45 minutes, and was an hour late to come to the meeting to tell me they were not going to charge the officers,” said Smalls, referring to the span of time between Martin’s determination and the death of her brother almost exactly three years ago. “She said simply they were going to move forward and release the findings within 24 hours.”

Smalls, who is the named plaintiff in the Lambert family’s $25 million wrongful death lawsuit against the town of South Boston, said the decision by Halifax’s chief prosecutor is “biased towards the officers.

“All of her research was about trying to find the officers not guilty in the death of my brother,” said Smalls. Speaking for her family, she said, “We wanted her to recuse herself from this case. She’s a prosecutor and her husband is a sheriff” — David Martin, Tracy Martin’s husband, is a deputy in the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office with the rank of captain — “and she works side by side with these officers. She’s in a small community with these officers …. That’s why we believe she was not impartial.”

The meeting on Monday was initiated by Martin, who traveled to Richmond where Smalls lives. She and Herring met with Smalls and Jack Gravely, interim executive director of the Virginia State NAACP, which has supported the family’s calls for criminal charges against the officers. Listening in on the phone was Tom Sweeney, a Philadelphia attorney who is representing the Lambert family in their civil lawsuit against the town. The case is pending in federal court.

In an interview with MSNBC chief legal correspondent Ari Melber on Monday night, Sweeney questioned a decision by Martin to reach out to a paid consultant for Taser International, which manufactures the weapons, in “analyzing the decision on whether or not these officers acted within the law.”

Sweeney told the network he was “disturbed to learn” that prosecutors relied on the company in their review of officers’ actions.

On the morning of his death, Lambert was taken by police to the emergency room at Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital after officers first encountered the Richmond construction worker at the Super 8 motel on Bill Tuck Highway. Officers had been called out to investigate loud noises at the motel. They found Lambert there in an agitated state, his motel room in shambles, and they took him to the hospital under an emergency care order.

Upon arriving at the ER, Lambert kicked out a squad car window and attempted to flee, sprinting towards the glass entrance door. Three town police — Corporal Tiffaney Bratton and Officers Travis Clay and Clifton Mann — subdued Lambert, who was handcuffed and unarmed, with multiple Taser shocks. The tasings continued after officers put Lambert in leg shackles, and again after they confined him inside a squad car.

Lambert died of cardiac arrest later that morning, after he was transported from the hospital to the Halifax jail.

The state medical examiner’s office ruled that cocaine abuse was the cause of death — a determination that lies at the heart of the town’s defense in the federal lawsuit brought by the Lambert family, which is being heard in U.S. District Court in Danville. A district judge’s rulings defining the scope of the case have been appealed by both sides. The appeals are pending in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Fourth District.

During her lengthy discussion with prosecutors on Monday, Smalls said she was told by Martin that a key reason why no charges will be forthcoming is there is insufficient evidence to establish officers’ intent to maim or kill Lambert. Smalls scoffed at what she said was Martin’s willingness to accept the officers’ words at face value.

She said that videotape of the confrontation has already disproven one claim by the ranking officer on the scene, Corporal Bratton, who told Virginia State Police during their investigation of Lambert’s death that the man grabbed her Taser to wrest it away. The video shows no such attempt by Lambert, who was writhing on the ground for much of the time in his encounter with the officers at the ER.

“She’s a liar,” said Smalls of Corporal Bratton. “She lied to State Police, she said he tried to grab her Taser when he was handcuffed. What would make her not lie under oath about what [her intent] was?”

Smalls said she will be meeting with a representative of the FBI on Thursday to discuss its findings in the matter, which is being reviewed by the Justice Department. "Hopefully the FBI will tell me something more than what Tracy [Martin] is telling me today," said Smalls.

On Wednesday, the family and its supporters with the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and others have scheduled a rally in at the Halifax courthouse to mark the third anniversary of Lambert’s death. Martin’s office is locate at the Courthouse square.

This story will be updated.

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