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South Boston police respond to lawsuit: Violent,  erratic actions justified use of Tasers

South Boston News
Linwood Raymond Lambert Jr. / June 04, 2015
The Town of South Boston has denied accusations of improper use of police Tasers in its response to a $25 million federal lawsuit brought by the family of a Richmond man who died in police custody in May 2013.

The 22-page filing contends that South Boston Police acted appropriately in using Tasers to subdue Linwood Raymond Lambert Jr., who is described as acting violently and erratically on the morning of May 4, 2013 when officers brought him into the emergency room at Halifax Regional Hospital for a mental health examination.

Police deployed Tasers “in the direction of Linwood Lambert Jr. outside the Halifax Regional Hospital in response to Lambert’s actions; specifically kicking out the window of the patrol car, running directly into the sliding glass entrance doors to the hospital and separating them from their track; and refusing to be placed under lawful arrest,” the filing states.

About an hour later that morning, Lambert went into cardiac arrest as he was being detained at the Blue Ridge Regional Jail in Halifax. He was rushed back to the emergency room by rescue personnel around 6 a.m. and declared dead at the hospital shortly afterwards.

Lambert’s sister, Gwendolyn Smalls of Richmond, is the plaintiff in the lawsuit, filed Apr. 29 in U.S. District Court in Danville. The lawsuit, prepared by attorneys in Maryland and Philadelphia, Pa., alleges that Lambert may have suffered an uninterrupted shock of up to 50,000 volts from the officers’ Tasers.

The harshly-worded lawsuit accuses South Boston police of murder and subsequently covering up the cause of Lambert’s death. in turn, the town’s response, filed May 27, repeatedly dismisses the family’s complaint as “frivolous” and “lacking in any reasonable foundation” in the law.

Defendants in the lawsuit are the Town of South Boston, the police department and Police Chief Jim Binner and Deputy Chief Brian K. Lovelace, along with 15 unidentified “John Doe” male officers and 15 “Jane Doe” female officers. Scoffing at the identification, the response notes that South Boston has only 28 sworn police officers and only three dealt with Lambert on the night of his death.

The officers — Cpl. Tiffany Bratton, Officer Clifton Mann and Officer Travis Clay — were called out to the Super 8 Motel on U.S. 58 on the night of May 4 after receiving complaints of disruptions in the early morning hours.

On their third visit to the motel, around 4:45 a.m. police found Lambert inside room 109 and determined he needed a mental health examination “because of the destruction observed by the officers to his hotel room” and because of Lambert’s “comments that he had murdered two people and hidden their bodies in the ceiling.”

The filing acknowledges that Lambert was unarmed and complied with officers’ requests to go with them to the hospital for an evaluation. It provides few details about what happened outside of the hospital ER, aside from noting his resistance, and it does not offer a narrative of what happened after Lambert was taken to the Halifax jail.

However, the town’s filing defends the use of Tasers, in light of his violent behavior, as “an appropriate and necessary use of force alternative to more harmful and lethal options available to law enforcement officers.”

While “any use of force options available to law enforcement officers has the potential to be used in excess, no such excessive force was used against Linwood Lambert Jr. on May 4, 2013,” the filing asserts.

It notes “there is nothing ‘unique’ about Tasers as a use of force option that makes them more or less susceptible to being used excessively.”

In response to the lawsuit’s assertion that police denied medical attention to Lambert after he was tasered, the filing states that Cpl. Bratton and Officers Mann and Clay “did not know that [Lambert] required medical attention until after they had arrived at the jail.”

The town further rejects the family’s claim that Lambert’s constitutional rights were violated or the police department promoted a cover-up on the cause of his death. On the contrary, the response notes that on the same day that Lambert died, South Boston turned the investigation over to Virginia State Police, which has since issued findings that are in the hands of Commonwealth’s Attorney Tracy Quackenbush Martin.

Separately, Martin earlier this year successfully sought to have City of Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring brought in from the outside as a special assistant to review the case.

By asking State Troopers to independently investigate the matter, South Boston Police cannot be “exclusively in the possession” of documents that shed light on what happened to Lambert, an allegation contained in the family’s lawsuit, the filing notes.

The Town is seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed by the Danville federal district court. In addition to defending the officers’ actions, the Town asserts that it cannot be sued on jurisdictional grounds and that the lawsuit fails to meet standard benchmarks for establishing constitutional violations.

Senior U.S. District Judge Jackson Kiser has ordered that the case be set for trial with discovery and other pre-trial activities assigned to Magistrate Judge Robert S. Ballou in Danville.

The town is being represented by the Danville law firm of Daniel, Medley & Kirby, P.C.

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