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Warning: This article contains a video that is extremely graphic in nature.
When Linwood Lambert died in police custody in May 2013, the coroner concluded that he died from “acute cocaine intoxication.” But new video released Wednesday shows officers tasing a shackled Lambert multiple times, bringing that ruling into question.
Police responded to noise complaints at a South Boston, Virginia, Super 8 Motel, where Lambert, 46, was found "acting paranoid, hallucinating, and telling them there were bodies buried in the ceiling," MSNBC reports. Officers recognized that Lambert required medical attention, so they took him to the emergency room at Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital. Despite handcuffing Lambert, officers assured him he was not being placed under arrest.
In the video, however, a seemingly frightened Lambert, still in handcuffs, kicks out the backseat window of the police car and attempts to flee, running toward the emergency room doors. Two officers are shown deploying their Tasers into Lambert, incapacitating him.
“Every time you get up, I’m going to pop you,” one of the officers is seen yelling over Lambert.
“I didn’t do nothing,” Lambert responds.
The officers continue to shock Lambert as he lay on the ground, sending 50,000 volts into his body with each discharge, then shackle his legs.
Lambert admits that he "just did cocaine" and asks the officers why they are trying to kill him. Instead of taking Lambert into the ER to receive medical attention like they originally intended, the officers placed him under arrest for “disorderly conduct” and “destruction of property” and put him in the squad car. The officers continued to use Tasers on a weakened Lambert, who is barely able to sit up, inside of the car.
Taser International device reports show that the three officers discharged their Tasers 20 times in about 30 minutes, according to MSNBC.
The video shows that officers find Lambert unconscious when they arrive at the station. An ambulance takes him back to the hospital, where he “flatlined on arrival” just after 6 a.m. He was pronounced dead at 6:23 a.m., according to MSNBC.
In its 2011 report, the Department of Justice addressed the overuse of conducted energy devices, like Tasers, by law enforcement agencies, and stated that “policies and training should address the use of CEDs on suspects who are controlled (e.g., handcuffed or otherwise restrained) and should either prohibit such use outright or limit them to clearly defined, aggravated circumstances."
In fact, federal guidelines also stipulate that officers should avoid the repeated use of Tasers. Fatal outcomes from Taser use often result from three factors: “repeated and multiple applications, cycling time that exceeds 15 seconds, whether time is consecutive or cumulative, and simultaneous applications by more than one [Taser].”
“You wouldn’t do any human or any species like that,” Gwendolyn Smalls, Lambert’s sister, told MSNBC, referring to his treatment by police. “I don’t see anything that he did in that tape that would provoke them to do what they did.”
Tom Sweeney, Smalls’ lawyer, pointed out the excessive use of force in the video:
The mere breaking of a door does not warrant the use of hundreds of thousands of volts being shocked into a person’s system on multiple occasions by multiple parties.
Smalls filed a civil suit in April against the police that alleges wrongful death, denial of medical care, and excessive force.
“[The police officers’] callous disregard for Linwood Lambert, in tasering him multiple times and depriving him of the desperate medical care he needed, violated his constitutional rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment,” Sweeney wrote in the suit, adding that police actions “constituted a deprivation of his substantive and procedural due process rights.”
The case remains under investigation by the Halifax County attorney, Tracy Quackenbush Martin, who has reportedly been working on it since 2013. MSNBC reports, however, that a South Boston police officer claims Martin said the officers were not at “criminal fault.”
Martin told MSNBC this week that “it would be premature to comment on a preliminary opinion when the investigation is still pending. I will withhold a final judgment until my investigation is complete.”
The three officers involved in Lambert's death, Cpl. Tiffany Bratton, Officer Clifton Mann, and Officer Travis Clay, have not been charged, according to MSNBC.
In fact, since Lambert's death, each officer has been promoted.