*A black man in Virginia died in police custody after he was repeatedly tased while shackled and denied medical care by the three, white, arresting officers. The graphic turn of events was all captured on police surveillance video, obtained Wednesday by MSNBC after the victim’s family filed a civil lawsuit. and seen publicly for the first time.
On May 4, 2013, police were called to investigate noise complaints at a Super 8 motel in South Boston, a small town in Southern, Va. Three officers arrived at the door of Linwood “Ray” Lambert just before 5 a.m. They say he was acting paranoid, hallucinating and telling them there were bodies buried in the ceiling.
Lambert was placed in one of the squad cars. The officers told him he was not under arrest and that they were taking him to the emergency room because he was speaking incoherently.
The three officers, Cpl. Tiffany Bratton, Officer Clifton Mann and Officer Travis Clay, departed the hotel in three police cars. Video from one shows an officer calling the hospital, asking for the mental health care worker on duty.
The officers did pull up to the hospital, but Lambert kicked out the squad car window and tried to run into the emergency room alone, only to discover the sliding glass doors were locked. The officers ran after him and began tasing him outside of the ER door. In response, Lambert’s body goes stiff and, with his hands cuffed, his arms could not break the fall when he hit the cement. The officers surrounded him on the ground and shackled his legs.
Nurses and hospital staff watched from inside. According to hospital records obtained by MSNBC, nurses on the scene said they saw “three officers” tasing Lambert “at one time.”
After pleading with the officers not to kill him, he told them that he was on cocaine.
Instead of taking him inside as originally planned, the officers put him under arrest and walked him back to the squad car, where they tased him again for not sitting up straight.
When the tasing inside the car ended, one of the officers drove Lambert to jail.
“He’s bleeding like a hog,” one of the other two officers was heard saying to a nurse at the hospital, “we thought he was crazy, and then he finally told us he was on cocaine.”
As the officers make the short drive to jail, the squad car video shows Lambert unconscious.
The officers notice his state when arriving at the jail, where they checked Lambert’s pulse, attempted CPR and called for help.
Then an ambulance came and took Lambert back to Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital – the same ER the officers had originally brought Lambert to for treatment.
Hospital records show Lambert was flatlined on arrival at 6:06 a.m. – just over an hour after his trip with police began. He was pronounced dead at 6:23 a.m.
Watch MSNBC’s report below:
A single, 5-second Taser discharge carries 50,000 volts and generally incapacitates a person, because it temporarily turns the human body into an electricity conductor. Law enforcement experts caution against repeat tasings.
Yet the three officers discharged their Tasers a total of 20 times over roughly half an hour. (The figures are from company device reports issued by Taser International, obtained by MSNBC.)
Those discharges amount to roughly 87 total seconds of potential tasing – a level capable of inflicting serious injury or death, according to federal guidelines. While the videos clearly show multiple tasings connecting with Lambert, not every recorded discharge necessarily makes human contact.
Most of those discharges were from Officer Bratton, who used her Taser 15 times, including 10 times in a two-minute span.
Lambert’s sister, Gwendolyn Smalls, learned of his death when police called her that Sunday morning. She says they refused to provide basic information about what happened that night. She kept calling the police and hospital, asking for details, but says she was only told that her brother was repeatedly combative, and then he died at the hospital. Police did not provide her the videos, or information from them.
Smalls ultimately filed a civil suit against the police this summer, alleging excessive force, wrongful death, denial of medical care and other claims, which the police categorically deny. That $25 million suit led to a court order forcing police to give Smalls the videos from that night.
She watched them for the first time last month, at her father’s house. “It was horrible,” she said, “a nightmare.”
Gwendolyn Smalls’ lawyer, Tom Sweeney, argues the police broke the law because they used excessive force for the situation.
“The mere breaking of a door,” he said, “does not warrant the use of hundreds of thousands of volts being shocked into a person’s system on multiple occasions by multiple parties.”
Sweeney also stresses it is illegal to taser someone who is restrained and in custody.
“When someone is restrained,” he said, “you’re not allowed to taser them.”
The South Boston Police Department’s own rules state Taser use “is no longer justified once the subject has been restrained.”
When a tasered suspect needs medical help, those rules state officers may “take the suspect to the emergency room at the Halifax Regional Hospital,” and should do so “before” taking the suspect to jail. (The rule is General Order Number 211, effective since May 2007.)
Federal guidelines also strictly limit Taser use.
The Justice Department states that police should limit tasings to people showing “active aggression” – not passive individuals, or those “fleeing” without posing a separate danger. The guidelines discourage repeat tasering, noting that exposure lasting over 15 seconds can “increase the risk of serious injury or death and should be avoided.”