The family of a 46-year-old man who died of a heart attack in Virginia police custody after being tased has filed a $25 million federal lawsuit against the South Boston Police Department.
Raymond Lambert Jr.'s family is also calling for the three officers allegedly involved in the incident to be removed from the force.
On May 4, 2013, Lambert was staying at a Super 8 motel in Halifax County, Virginia. He worked for a scaffolding company and was staying there as part of his work detail.
In the early hours, several people called 911 from the motel complaining of Lambert's erratic behavior.
When police arrived around 5 a.m., Lambert was unarmed and peacefully agreed to go with the police to get medical attention from nearby Halifax Regional Hospital, according to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for Western Virginia.
Lambert was dropped off at the hospital's emergency room about an hour later – in full cardiac arrest, according to the suit, which cites medical records.
The heart attack began, according to the lawsuit, when he was "in jail," though a response to the lawsuit filed by the defendants claims they found Lambert unresponsive in the back of the squad car on the way to the jail.
The lawsuit claims that Lambert was tased repeatedly at "distant contact range." Citing an autopsy report, Lambert had three puncture wounds, "suggestive of taser barb sites, on the right and left flanks."
It's unclear exactly what happened in the hour between when Lambert was taken into custody and when he arrived at the hospital. The family, in court filings, said it hadn't been shown any police department records, despite asking for them.
The lawsuit and defendant agree that Lambert was brought to the hospital two times.
Both parties agree that the officers first brought him directly to the hospital from the hotel, where he was consequently tased outside the emergency room doors. The suit alleges this tasing occurred "without proper ground, willfully, maliciously, and gratuitously."
Lambert was then put back in the police vehicle and brought to the South Boston jail, during which time he went into cardiac arrest, both defendant and plaintiff agree.
He was brought to the hospital again by a rescue team, at 6:06 a.m., where he was attended to and later pronounced dead, according to both the lawsuit and a response filed by the defendants.
The court documents don't name the alleged three officers involved. The South Boston News & Record identified them as Cpl. Tiffany Bratton, Officer Clifton Mann, and Officer Travis Clay.
Several days after Lambert was pronounced dead, the police department's deputy chief, Brian Lovelace, held a news conference and said Lambert was initially arrested for property damage in the motel. Lambert was disorderly and violent when taken into police custody, Lovelace added, and kicked out a police car window.
The deputy chief reportedly made no mention of his officers tasing Lambert.
"We got a phone call the Sunday" after he died, Lambert's sister and the lawsuit's plaintiff, Gwendolyn Smalls, 46, told BuzzFeed News. "A Sargent was telling us that he kicked the window out ... that they have pictures of the car and the trashed hotel room, but I haven't seen them."
Smalls' attorney, Joseph Messa, told BuzzFeed News that the family has repeatedly requested photographs of the damage as well as videos from the security cameras outside the motel and hospital – all of which have been repeatedly denied to them by the police department due to an "ongoing investigation."
After Lambert's death, the outstanding charges against him for disorderly conduct and property damage were dropped, Smalls told BuzzFeed News.
Lambert with his sister, the lawsuit's plaintiff, Gwendolyn Smalls.
The lawsuit accuses the officers, who are identified only as John and Jane Doe, of "unlawfully arresting" Lambert, "intentionally ... denying him medical attention," and using excessive force.
The suit also said the department's refusal to give the family information and "false and/or misleading statements made by Deputy Chief Lovelace" are part of "a conspiracy to cover up [Lambert's] deprivation of his civil rights" and to "conceal the conduct" of the officers.
Smalls added she has repeatedly been denied access to Lambert's possessions and clothes, which were seized the night of his arrest.
The suit demands $25 million for "punitive damages" plus "attorney's fees, interests and costs."
Representatives for the town of South Boston and the South Boston Police Department deferred to their attorneys.
Tracy Quackenbush Martin, the Commonwealth's attorney, was "unable to comment on any active investigation," though she said she was "aware of the importance of this matter, both for the family of Mr. Lambert, for the police, and for the Halifax and wider communities."
Other defense lawyers involved in the case were unavailable for comment.
In a response to the lawsuit filed in court, the defendants denied all accusations, including those of improper use of tasers or "excessive force."
In the filing, the defendants alleged that Lambert had become violent outside of the ER and had damaged property by "running directly into the sliding glass entrance doors to the hospital and separating them from their track."
The defendants argued that "the deployment of Tasers when a subject has become violent, causing damage to property, and placing the safety of persons at risk, ... is an appropriate and necessary use of force alternative to more harmful and lethal options."
The filing concludes with a request for "any such frivolous allegation be dismissed with prejudice," and that the defendants be reimbursed for any costs the lawsuit may have caused them.
Lambert was in auto-mechanic college at the time of his death, his sister said, and had no history of mental illness. He left behind his wife and 15-year-old daughter.
"We're 11 months apart, almost like twins," Smalls said. "Every year he would call me on my birthday and say, 'You caught up with me, sis!' ... After he passed I had the first birthday where ... I didn't pass him."
"The death of Linwood Lambert Jr. is tragic because it could have been prevented," lawyer Ramon A. Arreola said in a press release issued Friday. "The use of TASER weapons by law enforcement officers has resulted in hundreds of unnecessary deaths across the United States."
Though the lawsuit focuses on monetary damages, Smalls insisted that she and the family primarily "wants justice." She said they want the officers, who — if the News & Record's identification is correct — are still on the force and have received no recorded punishment, "locked up or at least off the force."
But most of all, Smalls said, the family wants an apology. "No one has said sorry to us, not once," she told BuzzFeed News. "We want them to address this like they should have from the beginning."
Ema O'Connor is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Ema O'Connor at email@example.com.
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