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Appeal denied in South Boston Sheetz shooting case

The presiding judge in the Sheetz shooting case denied in all parts but one on Thursday a motion by the attorney for Halifax County Sheriff’s Investigator Thomas Lewis to set aside a jury’s verdict awarding $400,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages to the estate of the man shot and killed during an incident at Sheetz in Riverdale on July 2, 2008.

Judge David Melesco denied a motion by Lewis’ attorney, Charlene Johnson, to set aside the verdict and enter a judgment for Lewis, or in the alternative, to order a new trial, and to set aside the punitive damages award for the estate of Randolph Neal Seamster Jr., who was shot and killed by Lewis in the Sheetz parking lot.

In an accompanying memorandum in support of her motion, Johnson said there were not material facts genuinely in dispute in the evidence and that Deputy Lewis is entitled to summary judgment in his favor as a matter of law; and that the verdict is contrary to the evidence and the law and should be set aside and judgment entered in favor of Deputy Lewis, or alternately a new trial ordered.

On Thursday, Melesco denied Johnson’s motion in all parts except as to a reduction in the punitive damages award.

According to court documents, the jury award of $1 million exceeds the $350,000 limitation on punitive damages under Virginia law.

An order entered on Thursday awarded the plaintiff $400,000 in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages for a total of $750,000, to be allocated among members of the Seamster estate.

Johnson objected to Judge Melesco’s denial of her motion for “reasons stated on the record.”

Johnson has 30 days from the date of the order (May 31) to appeal the case to a higher court.

Angela Meredith, acting as administrator for the estate of the victim in the shooting, filed the suit Nov. 19, 2009 against a member of the Halifax County drug task force who fired the shot that killed Seamster in the Sheetz parking lot.

The estate of Seamster filed a $5.35 million wrongful death lawsuit in Halifax County Circuit Court alleging that Lewis, an investigator with the Halifax/South Boston Regional Narcotics and Gang Task Force, acted negligently and committed assault and battery when he fatally shot Seamster, a Pelham, N.C. resident.

Seamster died at the scene of the shooting as members of the Halifax, South Boston and State Police Regional Narcotics/Gang Enforcement Task Force were investigating a drug-related matter, which according to Virginia State Police Sergeant David Cooper, “resulted in attempted capital murder of one of the officers.”

Following the shooting incident, then Halifax County Sheriff Stanley Noblin requested the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation conduct an investigation into the officer involved in the shooting.

Facts gathered in the investigation of the shooting incident were presented to Halifax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Kim White, and a videotape of the incident was examined by investigators and shown to Seamster’s family.

Investigators Lewis, Mike McGregor and Tracy Mocarsky, along with Agent Mark Campbell were the task force officers involved in the chain of events that transpired over a period of 12 seconds and resulted in Seamster’s death.

White released the surveillance video and a report of her findings the afternoon of Aug. 15, 2008 exonerating the officers.