HALIFAX, Va. (AP) — Virginia prosecutors defended a decision Tuesday not to bring charges against police officers who used stun guns multiple times on a black man before his death, saying that although the officers may have acted inappropriately they don't think they could convict them of a crime.
Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Herring, who was brought in as a special assistant in the case, said he was outraged when he viewed the videos showing the repeated shocking of Linwood Lambert Jr. and wanted to find a way to recommend charges.
But he and Halifax County Commonwealth's Attorney Tracy Quackenbush Martin concluded there's no evidence to suggest the officers knowingly deprived Lambert of necessary medical care or used their stun guns with the goal of punishing, torturing or killing the man.
"You don't bring criminal charges to make policy points," Herring said during a Tuesday press conference in Halifax. "You don't engage in a prosecution because you think that someone may have crossed the line."
Attorneys for the officers didn't respond to messages left at their offices Tuesday.
Videos released last year show South Boston Police Officers Tiffany Bratton, Clifton Mann and Travis Clay using their stun guns repeatedly on Lambert after they took him into custody for a mental health evaluation on May 4, 2013.
After they arrived at the hospital, Lambert kicked out the police cruiser's window and ran toward the emergency room doors with his hands handcuffed behind his back. As he ran away from the officers, they shocked him repeatedly, even after he fell to the ground.
Instead of taking him to the hospital, the officers took Lambert to jail, saying he was arrested for disorderly conduct and property damage. They shocked him again when he was put back in the cruiser, restrained in the back seat.
Lambert told the officers that he used cocaine; the medical examiner's office concluded that the drug, and the "cocaine-induced excited delirium" that followed, caused his death.
The officers have defended their use of force, saying it was appropriate because Lambert had become violent and was putting their safety at risk. Their attorneys have also rejected claims made by Lambert's family that the man's race was a factor, noting that one of the officers, Bratton, is also black, The South Boston News & Record reported.
Martin concluded that the repeated use of their stun guns did not directly cause Lambert's death. The officers pulled the triggers of their stun guns roughly 20 times, but there were only three instances in which the prongs made impact with Lambert's body, Martin said. In several other instances, they placed the stun gun directly up against his body, but that does not have as strong an effect, Martin said.
"Although you can look at the video and see tasing after tasing, I have to conclude ... that his actual exposure, in a way that could jeopardize his health, was limited," Martin said.
Although Herring said the officers did not display a callous disregard for Lambert's well-being, he criticized them for operating "under a cloud of professional ignorance" and using behavior "below acceptable policing standards."
"That footage doesn't inspire much confidence in policing when you look at in a vacuum," Herring said.
An FBI civil rights investigation into the matter is ongoing. Lambert's family has also filed a $25 million civil lawsuit against the officers that's expected to go to trial early next year.
The decision not to bring charges comes just before the three-year anniversary of Lambert's death. Lambert's family is planning a march Wednesday in South Boston, a town of about 8,000 people in southern Virginia near the North Carolina border. They say they don't intend to give up their fight for justice.
"He can finally rest in peace when we finally get some justice for him," Lambert's sister, Gwendolyn Smalls, said.
Follow Alanna Durkin Richer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/aedurkinricher. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/alanna-durkin-richer.