Virginia’s top elected officials spoke out about the death of Linwood Lambert for the first time Wednesday, a week after videos emerged showing three police officers repeatedly tasing the Virginia man in a hospital doorway, in violation of police rules.
“The video showing Linwood Lambert being tased repeatedly before his death is very troubling,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA).
“After two and a half years of unanswered questions, Mr. Lambert’s family deserves a resolution,” he told MSNBC in a statement. “I urge the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Halifax County to swiftly complete the investigation and make a final decision about whether charges are warranted,” said Kaine, who is also the former governor of Virginia.
In a statement to MSNBC Wednesday, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said the videos were “deeply disturbing” and “raise a number of serious questions.” Warner added, “I strongly urge local prosecutors to wrap up this investigation as fairly and quickly as possible. Linwood Lambert’s family deserves answers.”
An aide to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, shared his first public comment on the case, telling MSNBC, “the Governor was disturbed by the contents of the video and believes it is time to bring this case to a conclusion.” McAulliffe’s office also said he instructed a “public safety team” to report to him on ways Virginia can improve community policing and oversee the use of force.
This is the first time Virginia’s top statewide officials have weighed in on the case, which drew calls for an independent investigation from civil rights groups and concern from the Attorney General since videos of the tasing were first reported by MSNBC last Wednesday.
The statements from the governor and senators raise a controversial aspect of the local investigation into the tasing – why it’s taken over two and a half years to reach a decision about an incident caught entirely on video.
According to the lead investigator for the Virginia State Police, which led the tasing inquiry, prosecutor Tracy Quackenbush Martin decided not to charge the officers over a year ago, but kept the case open. Martin said this week that despite reaching a “preliminary opinion,” she decided to seek “additional information” before “making a final determination” in the case.
A spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring also raised the length of the process this week, telling MSNBC that the “community and family are entitled to answers and resolutions after two years.” The spokesman also noted that while any prosecution is up to the local Commonwealth attorney, the Attorney General does believe “the video is very troubling and deserves a thorough review and a prompt response.”
The mayor of South Boston, Virginia, Edward Owens, has not spoken about the case and his office declined repeated requests for comment, telling a reporter the office would rather not receive future calls about the Lambert case.
The Congressman who represents the town, Republican Robert Hurt, also declined repeated requests for comment.
Hurt’s leading Democratic opponent, Ericke Cage, spoke out about the incident in an interview with MSNBC, saying he was “devastated” when he saw the videos.
“They were attempting to take him to treatment,” he said of the officers’ reason for taking Lambert into custody. Cage called the tasing “clearly excessive force" and said he believes the officers should be charged, based on the evidence in the video. As for the lack of response to the incident from some elected officials, Cage told MSNBC, “It’s unfortunate politicians – Democrat or Republican -- are not willing to take a stand on this issue.”
While Cage is advocating prosecution for the tasing, and other elected officials say the video shows disturbing and troubling conduct, South Boston police maintain the officers’ use of force that night was “appropriate and necessary," denying allegations of mistreatment in a civil suit brought by Lambert’s sister.
The three officers involved have all been promoted since the incident took place in May 2013.