The top state investigator tasked with reviewing the death of Linwood Lambert, a Virginia man who died after three police officers repeatedly tased him in a hospital doorway in 2013, says a prosecutor told him she did not intend to charge the officers for the incident, according to newly released state files.
John Rieger, the special agent who led the Virginia State Police investigation into Lambert’s death, wrote in police files that the local prosecutor advised him “there has been no violation of the law” by the officers.
The prosecutor conveyed that view in May 2014, according to Rieger’s files, which MSNBC obtained since reporting on videos of the tasing incident last week. The files were just released through civil litigation regarding Lambert’s death.
Rieger writes that the prosecutor, Tracy Quackenbush Martin, contacted him on May 1, 2014 to share that “she has completed her review of the case file,” finished her “additional inquiries” and said that “after reviewing all reports and evidence related to this case she feels there has been no violation of the law by the officers involved in this incident.”
That assessment, which was not public until today, is the clearest indication from a Virginia State official that investigators did not expect charges in the case.
The record shows that in May 2014, a year after the incident, state investigators believed the working assumption inside the prosecutor’s office was that no charges were warranted.
Police took Lambert into custody for medical care, but tased him repeatedly, while handcuffed, after he broke a squad car window at the entry to the hospital. Local rules bar tasing a restrained suspect. Depending on a prosecutor’s conclusions about how much force was justified, potential charges could range from excessive force to crimes related to Lambert’s death.
Martin has repeatedly emphasized, however, that her investigation is open, telling MSNBC last week that any reaction to potential comments she issued earlier are “premature,” and that she “will withhold a final judgment until [her] investigation is complete.” (UPDATE: She replied further on Tuesday, telling msnbc she “reached a preliminary opinion which was just that—preliminary,” and “after careful consideration, I concluded that seeking additional information and resources would assist me in making a final determination.” Full statement below).
In the same May 2014 file, Rieger also writes that Martin said she would send him a letter regarding her decision not to charge the officers “in the near future.”
That letter never came, however, because Martin extended the investigation and added another prosecutor to assist her, Michael Herring, as MSNBC previously reported.
The newly disclosed investigation files appear consistent with records from the police department under investigation, in South Boston, VA, which state that the same prosecutor told an officer she saw no reason for charges in the incident.
According to South Boston, Va. police files from this March, Martin told an officer she “felt that the officers had no criminal fault,” and she wanted a second prosecutor “to review everything behind her.”
But those files reflected a view of Martin’s comments from the potential target of the investigation – the police department where the officers worked – while the newly disclosed files reflect a view of Martin’s comments from the independent investigators, who reviewed the incident for her and did work for her on the case.
The Virginia State Police conducted the original investigation of the incident, and under state law, they report to the local prosecutor for any ongoing investigative tasks.
Legally, an ongoing case is open for as long as the prosecutor declines to announce whether there are charges or not. According to the State Police, the case has essentially been open, with a preliminary conclusion of no charges, that’s been vetted over the past year and a half. The State Police records do not indicate whether Martin changed that view since last May.
The most recent file is from this June, noting Rieger met with Martin, and that she and her additional prosecutor, Mike Herring, wanted to have “another medical professional review the Medical Examiner’s findings and see if they concur.”
The examiner found Lambert’s cause of death as acute cocaine intoxication, though the level of cocaine in his blood was considered low for an overdose, according to medical experts.
In the June medical file, Rieger writes Martin indicated she would follow up “in two weeks and see what else needs to be done to assist her in completing her findings.” That statement is the last written record of her contact with investigators, which Virginia State Police confirmed to msnbc on Monday.
Martin’s criminal investigation has been open for over two and a half years, a lengthy amount of time for an inquiry into a physical altercation recorded on video.
UPDATE: Martin did not reply to requests for comment the day this article was published. The following day, Tuesday, she provided a statement in response, which is published below in full:
“The following comments are in response to the press inquiry about notations in the Virginia State Police file about my preliminary conclusions in the investigation of the death of Linwood Lambert:
After the death of Linwood Lambert, the chief of the South Boston Police department requested that the Virginia State Police conduct an investigation into the events leading up to Mr. Lambert’s death. As Commonwealth’s Attorney, my job is not simply to determine if any wrongdoing took place during the events leading to Mr. Lambert’s death, but whether a crime was committed. After reviewing the materials gathered by the Virginia State Police and weighing all the evidence presented to me, I reached a preliminary opinion which was just that—preliminary. After careful consideration, I concluded that seeking additional information and resources would assist me in making a final determination. I felt that all parties to this matter, including the public, would be better served by taking the time to gather this additional information before making a final conclusion.
Of paramount concern is that my decision be well-founded and accurate. I have the further duty to articulate that decision clearly, so that the citizens of Halifax County fully understand my conclusions and have confidence in them. I know it will not be possible to reach consensus, which is neither my goal nor my job. Many will disagree with me, whatever my final conclusion. My job, first and foremost, is to reach the just and right conclusion, one which is best supported by the evidence.
While I recognize the frustration in not knowing the precise nature of my inquiries or status of the investigation, my professional and ethical obligations as a prosecutor prevent me from discussing the substance of any criminal investigation while it is pending. For that reason, I will not provide further comment on this matter until the investigation is complete and my conclusions are final.”