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County files response to $5.35M Seamster lawsuit

SoVaNow.com / February 04, 2010
An attorney for the Halifax County Sheriff’s Department filed a response in Halifax County Circuit Court on Tuesday to the suit filed by the Estate of the late Randolph Neal Seamster Jr. late last week seeking $5.35 million for the wrongful death of Seamster.

Angela Meredith, acting in her capacity as Administratrix of the Seamster Estate, said Neal Seamster’s death resulted from negligence by Sergeant Thomas Lewis of the Sheriff’s Department in that he “failed to follow the customs, policies or practices of the County, the Sheriff’s Department, the Town of South Boston’s Police Department and/or the Halifax/South Boston Regional Narcotics/Gang Task Force.

Seamster died on July 2, 2008 following a chain of events that took place in the parking lot of the Sheetz store in Riverdale after officers approached the car which he was driving and sought to question him.

The lawsuit, filed for Seamster’s estate by M. Bryan Slaughter, Kevin W. Ryan and Michie Hamlett Lowery of the Charlottesville law firm of Rasmussen & Tweel, claims that “Lewis ran in front of and directly into the path of Seamster’s moving vehicle with his gun drawn and jumped onto the hood as the vehicle was moving. While he was airborne, he shot Seamster in the chest and then rolled off the hood of the vehicle.”

Following the incident, Halifax County Sheriff Stanley Noblin requested that the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation conduct an investigation into the shooting. Lewis was placed on administrative leave until the investigation was concluded, stating that the officers were justified in their actions.

The findings from that investigation were presented to Halifax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Kim White. On Aug. 15, 2008 she released the findings from the report, as well as a surveillance video of the event. White said, “the facts as established in the surveillance video and witness interviews clearly establish that the law enforcement officers were justified in their approach of Neal Seamster, who they suspected to be engaged in criminal activity.”

Furthermore, she added, “The tragic, unwise and unlawful choices made by Mr. Seamster thereafter left the officer with little choice but to use deadly force.”

Members of Seamster’s family who were present for White’s announcement disagreed strongly with the findings of the investigators.

In responding to the complaint, Carlene Booth Johnson of the Perry Law Firm of Dillwyn wrote that the negligence claim based on Lewis’ alleged “breach of the standard of care cannot fix the standard of any duty of Sergeant Lewis to others, and cannot provide the basis of a negligence claim.”

Furthermore, the response says Lewis states that he is protected by sovereign immunity at all times relevant to this action having been in performance of a governmental function that involved his judgment and discretion, thus the proceeding should be dismissed since sovereign immunity protects him from liability for alleged negligence.

The Seamster Estate is asking for a jury trial with no date having yet been set for hearing.

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