RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Three police officers repeatedly used stuns guns on a black man they brought to a Virginia hospital for a mental health evaluation, and the man later died in their custody, according to recently released videos in the 2013 case.
The videos, first obtained by MSNBC, show the South Boston officers shocking Linwood R. Lambert Jr. multiple times after he kicked out a police cruiser’s back window and ran to the doors of an emergency room while he was handcuffed.
Instead of taking him inside the ER, which was just steps away, officers took Lambert to jail, saying he was arrested for disorderly conduct and property damage.
Upon his arrival at the jail, the 46-year-old was unresponsive. An ambulance brought him back to the same ER and he was pronounced dead at the hospital, about an hour after he was initially taken into custody.
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 rejected those claims, saying in response that the stun gun was “an appropriate and necessary use of force alternative to more harmful and lethal options available.”
The Virginia State Police investigated 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 that 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.”
No charges have been filed. An attorney for Lambert said three officers were not disciplined and they have all since been promoted.
Neither the police department nor the officers’ attorney responded to requests for comment Thursday.
Lambert’s sister, Gwendolyn Smalls, said the officers should face charges.
“Now that he’s not here, I have to defend him,” she said of her brother, “and make sure that we can get the justice that we are asking and that he so justly deserves,” she said. “I want them stripped of their badge and their gun. I want them off the street. They don’t need officers walking around, running around trying to protect and serve citizens with that type of attitude.”
The officers, who are only identified as Jane Doe and John Doe 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, 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.