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Lawsuit settled in death of Richmond construction worker

SoVaNow.com / December 02, 2016
A $25 million federal lawsuit against the South Boston Police Department and the town arising from the May 2013 death of a Richmond construction worker in local police custody has been settled.

Terms of the settlement have not been divulged in the lawsuit, Smalls v. Binner, named for Gwendolyn Smalls, sister of Linwood Lambert Jr., who died after being tasered by South Boston police, and the police chief in South Boston, Jim Binner.

Efforts to reach Smalls this week to discuss the settlement were unsuccessful. She lives in the Richmond area.

The order dismissing the case, entered Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Danville, would appear to end the legal wrangling that resulted from the May 4, 2013 death of Lambert. The events of that evening were captured on video and aired widely by MSNBC and other media outlets. The video depicted the interactions between Lambert and three South Boston officers, beginning on the night of May 3, when police took Lambert into custody at the Super 8 motel, and later that morning when they took him to the emergency room at Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital.

At the hospital, Lambert attempted to escape the officers’ custody by kicking out a squad car window and running into the ER sliding glass door. The three officers — Corporal Tiffany Bratton and Officers Clifton Mann and Travis Clay — used their Taser stun guns to subdue Lambert, who admitted after receiving several shocks that he had been using drugs that night. He died a short time later that morning after being taken to the Halifax jail and rushed back to the hospital after becoming unresponsive.

The family claimed in the lawsuit that Lambert died as a result of repeat taser shocks. The medical examiner’s report attributed the cause of death to cocaine ingestion.

The circumstances of Lambert’s death, which were publicly revealed only with the filing of the lawsuit in the spring of 2015, prompted protests from the Virginia State NAACP and other civil rights groups. It also spurred a Justice Department investigation that concluded with a U.S. Attorney determining that town police had committed no criminal acts and should not face charges for Lambert’s death.

A separate review by Halifax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tracy Martin arrived at same conclusion, seconded by City of Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring, who was brought in to provide an independent review of the incident. While Herring concurred that criminal charges against police were not warranted, he issued a sharply critical report on the SBPD, musing at one point that ”other departments might use the incident footage as a training tool on how not to police.”

The order entered in Danville on Wednesday states “this action is dismissed with prejudice and the clerk is directed to close the case.” It is signed by U.S. Senior District Judge Jackson Kiser, who presided over the action.

This story will be updated.

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