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Motion filed to set aside verdict in SoBo shooting case

The attorney for Halifax County Sheriff’s Investigator Thomas Lewis filed a motion on behalf of Lewis on Friday in Halifax County Circuit Court seeking 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.

 

In her motion, Dillwyn attorney Charlene Johnson is asking the court 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 no 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.

Johnson also said in support of her motion that the evidence does not show that Deputy Lewis committed battery, and the plaintiff failed to prove lack of justification or excuse, an essential element of battery.

“The evidence shows that Deputy Lewis acted in self- defense, and his good faith, reasonable belief that his use of force was lawful protects him from liability for battery,” Johnson added in her memorandum in support of her motions.

“The jury instruction regarding a person having a right to self-defense with respect to a ‘battery that he was without fault in provoking’ misstates the law when the person is a law enforcement officer performing his law enforcement duties, and was particularly prejudicial to Deputy Lewis when compounded by the improper allowance of the plaintiff’s expert witness testimony and argument criticizing officers other than Lewis and conduct other than that on which the battery claim is based,” Johnson stated in her memorandum.

“Not only is the verdict contrary to the evidence and the law, and should be set aside in its entirety and judgment entered for Lewis, or a new trial granted, but the punitive damages award should be set aside in any event as being contrary to the evidence and the law, and as a preliminary matter must be reduced to the statutory cap of $350,000 pursuant to Va. Code 8.01-38.1,” Johnson argues.

A jury of six women and one man returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff on March 15 after a civil trial lasting three days.

Angela Meredith, acting as administrator for the estate of the victim in the shooting, Randolph Neal Seamster Jr., 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 Sgt. 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.

Lewis, who fired the fatal shot, had been on administrative leave since the shooting occurred and was reinstated to return to work.