Federal Officials Close Review into Death of Linwood Lambert Jr.
ROANOKE, VIRGINIA – U.S. Attorney John P. Fishwick Jr. announced today that there is insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges against South Boston Police Officers Tiffany Bratton, Travis Clay and Clinton Mann for the death of Linwood Raymond Lambert Jr. on May 4, 2013.
Officials from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Virginia, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the FBI notified members of Lambert’s family today to inform them of this decision.
Federal authorities conducted an independent review of all the information obtained during the states’ investigation into Lambert’s death. This information included the rearview and outward facing dashboard cameras from the officers’ patrol cars, surveillance camera footage from the hospital, witness interview reports, evidence pertaining to the use of tasers, the depositions and expert witness materials in the civil litigation and the medical examiner’s report and amended report.
The team of experienced federal prosecutors and FBI agents considered whether officers Bratton, Clay and Mann violated federal law by willfully using unreasonable force against Lambert. Under the applicable federal criminal civil rights statute, prosecutors would be required to establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a law enforcement officer, or in this case officers, willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right. To establish willfulness, federal authorities would be required to show that the officers acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. This is the highest standard of intent imposed by law. Mistake, misperception, negligence or poor judgment are not sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation. In this case, all the information obtained during the state’s investigation was reviewed by federal authorities.
Evidence showed that on May 4, 2013, officers Bratton, Clay and Mann responded to a call of a disturbance at a South Boston motel and encountered Lambert. His behavior included incoherent speech and apparent hallucinations. The officers decided not to arrest Lambert but, instead, to transport him to the hospital. Upon arrival at the hospital’s emergency room entrance, Lambert raised his feet and kicked out the glass of the rear passenger door of the police car that he was traveling in and ran from the vehicle, with his hands cuffed behind his back. Lambert violently collided, shoulder first, with the ER entrance door. Officers followed him and immediately tased him. The officers tased im several more times and physically struggled with Lambert as he resisted their efforts to apply leg restraints and failed to comply with their commands. The officers then raised Lambert to his feet and escorted him to a patrol car. While in the backseat, Lambert mumbled incoherently, rocked his body in all directions, remained conscious with his eyes open, and banged his head against the interior of the car. After he slouched in the backseat and raised his legs, and failed to respond to the officers’ commands to stop doing so, the officers, fearing he would again kick out the windows of the patrol car, used their tasers in an attempt to compel compliance. When that failed, the officers pushed Lambert in a seated position and fastened the seat belt. When they arrived at the jail sally port, Officer Clay discovered that Lambert was unresponsive in the backseat. Although the officers initiated CPR, Lambert was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.
In this case, there is no reliable evidence to contradict the assertion that the officers tased Lambert at the hospital door for a legitimate law enforcement purpose, namely to gain control of an individual they perceived as non-compliant and behaving erratically. Similarly, there is no reliable evidence to contradict the assertion that the officers tased Lambert in the patrol car in order to prevent him from causing further damage to the vehicle and to gain his compliance to transport him to jail.
Based on a careful and thorough review, the team of federal prosecutors and FBI agents determined that there was insufficient evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that officers Bratton, Clay and Mann acted willfully with a bad purpose to violate federal law. Accordingly, the federal review of this incident has been closed without prosecution. This decision is limited strictly to an application of the high legal standard required to prosecute the case under the federal civil rights statute; it does not reflect an assessment of any other aspect of the incident that led to Lambert’s death.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Civil Rights Division and the FBI are committed to investigating allegations of civil rights violations by law enforcement officers and will continue to devote the resources required to ensure that all allegations of serious civil rights violations are fully and completely investigated. The department will aggressively prosecute criminal civil rights violations whenever there is sufficient evidence to do so.