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Wednesday, 11 May 2016 12:34

‘It’s not over’ Featured

Written by Emily Jones | SouthVANow.com
Kevin Chandler, local NAACP president, speaks with Gwendolyn Smalls, sister of Linwood Raymond Lambert Jr., in the background. Kevin Chandler, local NAACP president, speaks with Gwendolyn Smalls, sister of Linwood Raymond Lambert Jr., in the background. David Conner II

Two days after prosecutors revealed they would not charge police officers in the death of Linwood Raymond Lambert Jr., a small group of protestors gathered at the Courthouse lawn Wednesday to mark the third anniversary of his passing.

Supporters of the late Richmond forklift operator and his family also conveyed a message: “It’s not over,” said Halifax County-South Boston NAACP President Kevin Chandler.

The rally unfolded in the wake of the decision by Halifax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tracy Quackenbush Martin not to file charges against the South Boston police officers who took Lambert into custody on May 4, 2013 and used Tasers to subdue him when he sought to flee their grasp outside the emergency room at Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital.

That encounter — captured on video and later aired on network television, fueling an ongoing national debate over police tactics — has spawned local protests, too, although the turnout for the third anniversary rally in Halifax was far smaller than the 100 or so people that town officials had been told in advance to expect.

Members of the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Nation of Islam and others stood in front of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office next to the Courthouse, with roughly an equal number of police and the media on hand to witness the event.

Representing the family was Gwendolyn Smalls of Richmond, sister of Lambert and the named plaintiff in the family’s $25 million wrongful death lawsuit against the Town of South Boston and police department.

Fighting a cold and the emotions of the week — it began Monday when Martin and City of Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring met with Smalls in person to break the news that no one would be charged in her brother’s death — Smalls alluded to the toll on her family: “My father was too devastated to even come,” she said.

The father — Linwood Lambert Sr. — grew up in Charlotte County. Now living in Maryland, he has been a frequent visitor to South Boston to take part in marches to protest his son’s death, but he was not at the Courthouse for Wednesday’s event to remember his son.

Mostly leaving the task of responding to Martin to others, Smalls read from a letter that she wrote to her deceased brother, which touched on childhood memories of their time together at their grandmother’s home in Charlotte Courthouse.

“We were carefree when we were growing up, without a care in the world,” said Smalls, recalling how she, her brother and other siblings would play in their grandmother’s treehouse and yard. “We didn’t change the world; the world changed us.”

Although she said little about Martin’s decision not to charge the South Boston officers who had Lambert in their custody when he died — the subject of a 76-page report released Tuesday — Smalls did take exception to an appendix that laid out Lambert’s past drug use and criminal record, for property crimes such as robbery, burglary and larceny.

Smalls pointedly noted that leading up to his death, her brother had been employed for six years by the same company, including at the construction site that brought him to South Boston. Lambert also was attending community college to earn a degree in auto mechanics, a step towards his goal of opening his own repair shop.

“I assume there wasn’t enough evidence or literature to support those findings” in Martin’s report, said Smalls ruefully.

“The time for judgment has passed,” she said of her late brother.

Others addressed the decision not to take action against the South Boston officers who tasered Lambert a short time before he died, Corporal Tiffaney Bratton and Officers Clifton Mann and Travis Clay.

Jack Gravely, interim executive director of the Virginia State NAAACP, described Martin’s report as “compelling, but not convincing.

“To those who think that the report is the end, it is just the beginning,” said Gravely.

With charges against the officers ruled out, Gravely said the Lambert family and its supporters would turn to the courts, and to the FBI, for justice. The FBI is investigating the circumstances of Lambert’s death to determine if South Boston police committed wrongdoing. Smalls said earlier this week that she will meet with agency representatives today in Richmond for a status report on their investigation.

“We simply do not accept the conclusions of that report,” said Gravely, referring to Martin’s decision not to press charges.

He said the criticism of her wasn’t personal — Gravely described Martin as “very likeable” — but added that skepticism is grounded in the fact that Martin, as a prosecutor, works closely with local police and is married to a member of the Sheriff’s Office, Captain David Martin.

“For us to believe that Commonwealth’s Attorney Martin is not biased because of who she knows and what she knows, that is a bridge too far,” said Gravely

Similarly, those who question the actions of the officers in Lambert’s death are not opposed to law enforcement, Gravely continued.

“Criticism does not mean you hate police officers,” he said. “If officers cannot handle criticism, maybe they need to take off the badge and remove the gun.”

Chandler said the civil rights organization would not idly accept the outcome of Martin’s review.

“Understand that these officers were not trained to make any medical or mental evaluation,” said Chandler, referring to the circumstances whereby Lambert was first taken into custody, when police were called out to the Super 8 in Riverdale to deal with the disruptive motel guest. “We will make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Chandler noted that the NAACP had asked Martin to recuse herself from the investigation because of her “close working relations with law enforcement.” He also called for reform in officer training to help police deal more effectively with individuals who suffer from mental illness and drug issues.

“The NAACP continues to stand for justice and justice for all,” Chandler added. “We are not against law enforcement. We are against improper law enforcement.”

William Avon Keen of Danville, representing the SCLC, said the officers’ actions on the night that Lambert died violated the community’s right to equal protection under the law.

“Excessive force is still assault,” Keen said. “If a citizen had done that to another citizen, they would have been charged. This community should be concerned with the police.

“Just because you wear blue you still have to abide by the law. You cannot do whatever you want to do. We must remove the concept of us versus them. We need the police to protect us,” Keen said.


(Editor's note: This article originally included an observation, attributable to News & Record editor Tom McLaughlin, that Halifax County Commonwealth's Attorney Tracy Quackenbush Martin was sighted on the edge of the Courthouse square during the rally. She was inside the courtroom that day — the rest being a case of mistaken identity, the line has been removed from this updated account. The News & Record apologizes for the error.)

Herring: South Boston policing ‘below the public’s expectations’

Although he ultimately recommended no charges against South Boston police in the death of Linwood Raymond Lambert Jr., Richmond's prosecutor criticizes lack of "professionalism" of three town officers.

Link to original article from SouthVANow.Com

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