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$25 million federal lawsuit alleges brutality, cover-up by South Boston Police in man’s death

South Boston News
Linwood Raymond Lambert, Jr.

SoVaNow.com / May 22, 2015
The South Boston Police Department has been hit with a $25 million federal lawsuit by the family of a 46-year-old African-American man who died in police custody after officers stunned him with a Taser.

The lawsuit, filed Apr. 29 in U.S. District Court in Danville, accuses the South Boston department of causing the wrongful death of Linwood Raymond Lambert, Jr., who was taken into police custody in the early morning hours of May 4, 2013 at the Super 8 Motel on U.S. 58.

The lawsuit alleges the unarmed Lambert committed no crime yet was subjected to police brutality and excessive force, wrongful arrest and denial of medical attention. It also alleges inadequate oversight of officers in the use of Tasers, and “pervasive misconduct and abuse” by department officials who “deliberately sought to cover-up the facts and circumstances surrounding the murder of Linwood Lambert” — circumstances that include Lambert being hit three times with electrical charges of more than 50,000 volts, the suit continues.

A representative of the South Boston Police Department said Friday that the incident remains under investigation and the department would have no comment at this time. She referred calls to the Town’s attorney in Danville, who was not immediately available for comment.

The civil suit was filed by a Philadelphia law firm, Messa & Associates, on behalf of Lambert’s sister, Gwendolyn Smalls of Richmond, who is listed as the administrator of his estate. A spokesperson for the law firm said Lambert worked as a forklift operator. At the time of the incident, police said Lambert was a resident of the Richmond area.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are South Boston Police Chief Jim Binner, Deputy Chief Brian K. Lovelace, the Town of South Boston and unidentified members of the department who are referenced in the lawsuit as officers John Does and Jane Does.

The lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Ramon A. Arreola, issued a statement Friday calling the death “tragic because it could have been prevented. The use of TASER weapons by law enforcement officers has resulted in hundreds of unnecessary deaths across the United States. This is unacceptable.

“Citizens of any community should not fear the law enforcement officers that are sworn to protect them,” stated Arreola. “The Town of South Boston and the South Boston police department have a responsibility to prevent the unnecessary, inappropriate, or gratuitous use of TASER weapons by inadequately trained law enforcement officers.”

The 31-page federal lawsuit lays out a narrative of what happened during the early morning hours of May 4, 2013 while acknowledging gaps due to the inability to obtain the police report and investigative materials from the SBPD. It accuses Chief Binner and Deputy Chief Lovelace of leading a “cover up” conducted “under the guise ‘of an official investigation.’”

What is known, the lawsuit alleges, is medical records note Lambert was “in full cardiac and respiratory arrest” when he was first treated by rescue workers at 5:28 a.m. and Lambert “was tazed by PD outside the [hospital] ER doors earlier,” sometime around 5 a.m.

The autopsy report records three puncture wounds on Lambert’s body from Taser barbs, indicating he was electrocuted multiple times “at distant contact range.”

“Linwood Lambert was unarmed and non-threatening at the time he was accosted” by officers and he “was not observed to have committed any crimes,” the lawsuit states.

Lambert was staying in Room 109 of the Super 8 on the night of May 3-4, 2013. Police were first called out to the motel at approximately 1:30 a.m. in response to a 911 call, but when they checked on the room where the call was said to have come from the officers found nothing. Shortly afterwards, officers were dispatched to investigate a 911 second call and again found nothing.

The front desk manager, Diane Posey, told police that after the second visit she heard the sound of metal banging on metal beyond the laundry room near Room 109, where Lambert was staying. She told police that she knocked on the door and told the guest to keep the noise down.

Around 4:30 a.m., Posey called town police to ask that they come back a third time to the motel. Three officers — two male, one female — arrived and went to Lambert’s room to speak with him, and Lambert “indicated to the police officers that he was nervous about a blue truck that present in the parking lot,” according to the lawsuit.

Asked to leave the motel with the officers, Lambert complied voluntarily and was taken to the hospital around 5 a.m. It was there, outside the ER doors, the lawsuit alleges, where police tasered Lambert multiple times — or failed to release the weapon trigger, resulting in a continuous electrical shock.

In its initial account of the incident in May 2013, the department said Lambert had been "combative" with officers, prompting his arrest.

After being taken to the county jail in Halifax, Lambert went into cardiac arrest starting at 5:28, rescue squad records show, and he was brought to the hospital at 6:06. a.m., according to the lawsuit. He was pronounced dead at 6:23 a.m.

In a statement to the local press afterwards, the lawsuit notes, Deputy Chief Lovelace commented “that Lambert died after being taken into police custody for being disorderly and causing property damage at the Super 8 Motel in Riverdale.” A subsequent press release omitted information about police using a taser on Lambert, the lawsuit notes.

“The false and/or misleading statements made by Deputy Chief Lovelace were made in an attempt to justify the indefensible actions” of officers, and evidence suggests the department has “a history of excessive and gratuitous use of TASER weapons,” the lawsuit continues.

The department and the town “knew or should have known that its police officers were inadequately and/or inappropriately trained in proper police procedures, practices, and protocols, including the use of TASER weapons."

It continues: “After tasering Linwood Lambert in front of the Halifax Regional Hospital, [police] knew or should have known that Linwood Lambert was in need of immediate medical attention. Defendants had the opportunity to provide Linwood Lambert immediate medical attention, yet Defendants knowingly, willingly, intentionally, and with reckless indifference to the civil rights, health, and safety of Linwood Lambert transported [him] to jail which resulted in his injuries and unnecessary death.”

In May 2013, South Boston Police requested that the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation conduct an independent review of Lambert's death to determine if any action was warranted against the officers involved. State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller said Friday that State Police finished its review in the fall of 2013 and forwarded the findings to Halifax County Commonwealth's Attorney Tracy Quackenbush Martin. Geller said the report is not public as long as the case is ongoing. "It is still under investigation by the Commonwealth's Attorney," she said. "As fas as we're concerned, it's an active investigation."

Martin was out of town at a conference Friday and not available for comment.

In addition to $25 million in compensatory and punitive damages, Lambert's family is asking for a court injunction to “correct government procedure to prevent future injury” by town police. The plaintiffs are seeking a jury trial.








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Comments

Here is where our system becomes in need of repair. The Commonwealth attorney is NOT going to be a neutral party in this case nor be impartial to seek key evidence in this small county. They work with the police day in/out to get convictions. To try their own team members is where our system fails. We need a neutral party and investigator from outside area to review these type cases. Know your rights folks and don't believe the Police are there to "protect" you. Understand anytime you come into contact with Police your life is in jeopardy. Sad but true. http://www.flexyourrights.org/

Comments

I am shocked and saddened to read this, yet another blatant example of excessive police force and racism. With the recent embarrassment over a mistaken identity at Mary Bethune where any available deputies were called in with assault weapons to lock down the building to enforce an illegal ban of an employee and taxpayer who cannot be banned due to citizens’ guaranteed right of access to public buildings. The removal of a speaker at a Board meeting for exercising her freedom of speech, it is obvious that the entire system has failed! From Sheriff’s Department and South Boston Police to the County Administration, County Attorney, “Team Bowman”, and the attempt to recall three minority Board of Supervisors. Anyone speaking out against WHITE POWER is a target. I also agree that the Commonwealth's Attorney is not impartial due to someone married to a Deputy and friends with the South Boston Chief runs the office. I pray for God's will and comfort to all being wronged.

Comments

It seems this recall idea is the attempt by the other 4 "Majority" supervisors to get rid of 3 "Minority" supervisors "White woman and 2 Black males" to try to create a strong " White male Majority" who are doing illegal, immoral things. Seems obvious to me. That's what keeping industries out of our county and running everyone away. Wrong 4 supervisors on that recall list. Now IDA director putting things in paper attempting to make "White male Majority" supes look good when fact is we haven't had new industry come here in over 8 years.

Comments

Its use also increases the risk of stroke, myocardial infarction, lung problems in those who smoke it, blood infections, and sudden cardiac death. Rick James said it best. Cocaine is a hell of a drug. Cocaine or the police kill someone everyday. Don't do cocaine and follow police orders.

Comments

Another case where police overreact and kill someone. Why are they hiring these incompetent people?? I am surprised this was South Boston, it seemed more reflective of Pittsylvania Counties poor hiring practices and inefficient training. The only difference between this case and the David Frizzell case in Pittsylvania Co. is the former Police Lt. survived and there is one credible witness that can tell you that the most David Frizzell should have been charged with was public intoxication. David was teased multiple times and shot for having a beer in his hand. He will go before the Judge on Dec. 15th after being wrongly convicted of Capital Murder of a Deputy that overreacted due to a pre diagnosed condition of anxiety. There was so many lies told by there overzealous theatrical D.A. in court. The Deputy should be terminated, he is an extreme liability to the people of Pittsylvania County. An appeal will be forthcoming and so will a civil suit!

Comments

Another case where police overreact and kill someone. Why are they hiring these incompetent people?? I am surprised this was South Boston, it seemed more reflective of Pittsylvania Counties poor hiring practices and inefficient training. The only difference between this case and the David Frizzell case in Pittsylvania Co. is the former Police Lt. survived and there is one credible witness that can tell you that the most David Frizzell should have been charged with was public intoxication. David was tased multiple times and shot for having a beer in his hand. He will go before the Judge on Dec. 15th after being wrongly convicted of Capital Murder of a Deputy that overreacted due to a pre diagnosed condition of anxiety. There was so many lies told by there overzealous theatrical D.A. in court. The Deputy should be terminated, he is an extreme liability to the people of Pittsylvania County. An appeal will be forthcoming and so will a civil suit!


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