Following the decision on Tuesday to not charge a Virginia Beach police officer for the shooting death of 25-year-old Donovan Lynch in March, Lynch’s family and supporters expressed dismay at the merits of the investigation and made fresh calls for the feds to handle the matter.
“We’re disappointed, but not surprised,” said Wayne Lynch, Donovan’s father, in a press conference among supporters on Wednesday. “This is not over, it’s just begun,” he added, appealing to the Department of Justice. “I need justice for my son.”
Immediately following the shooting of Lynch, which gained nationwide attention, in part, because Lynch was a cousin of musician and Virginia Beach native Pharrell Williams, the Virginia Beach Police Department turned the investigation over to the Virginia State Police.
But according to Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney Colin Stolle in a press conference on Tuesday, that independent investigation stalled because a number of citizens who witnessed the shooting refused to cooperate.
In August, a special grand jury was convened to weigh in on the case.
According to a grand jury report, after looking at over 100 hours of body camera and surveillance footage, as well as testimony from witnesses and experts, the grand jury found no probable cause to believe Solomon Simmons, a Virginia Beach officer, “unlawfully” shot and killed Lynch. They agreed he’d acted in “justifiable self-defense.”
On March 26, the night of the shooting, the report noted there was “chaos” at the Virginia Beach waterfront where Lynch, a 6’5” Black former college lineman and youth volunteer coordinator in Virginia Beach, had been having dinner with a friend.
A shooting incident nearby that resulted in nine people shot and did not involve Lynch drew a large police presence as they attempted to locate suspects and victims, the report said. After rendering aid to a shooting victim, Simmons turned off his body camera upon returning to his car and when more gunfire erupted nearly 30 minutes later, he did not turn the camera back on as he ran into a parking lot that had turned into a “war zone,” according to the report.
While leaving the parking lot, Simmons testified that he heard the racking of a gun and saw a man standing near tall bushes. Someone shouted “gun, gun, gun” and Simmons shot Lynch, according to the report.
Previously, Simmons has argued in court filings as part of Lynch’s family’s ongoing civil suit against Simmons that Lynch “rose and turned” with a gun in hand and pointed in Simmons’ direction before he shot.
Among the report’s recommendations were that protocols be put into place to ensure all body cameras are automatically turned on when officers are on duty. Already Lynch’s death has resulted in the recent creation of an independent civilian review board that will investigate civilian complaints and police policies.
Local minister and activist Gary McCollum, who has been an advocate for Lynch’s family, told The Daily Beast he was upset by the lack of answers in the four-page grand jury report, as well as the Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office press conference presenting it. He noted what he believed to be “unnecessary” references to Lynch’s height, weight, and blood alcohol content during the press confernece.
McCollum said the points seemed to be aimed at “impugning” Lynch’s character. He also said the investigation did not focus on what Lynch, a licensed gun-owner at the time, was in his right to do in the midst of a shooting scene that involved over 50 shots being fired before he was shot.
“The second amendment applies to everybody,” McCullom told The Daily Beast. “If you are licensed to carry a weapon and you hear 50 shots go off and you have a weapon on you, which you’re legally allowed to have, what would you do?”
The Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney Office did not respond to an immediate request for comment.
McCullom noted that the grand jury report found no evidence that Lynch ever pointed a weapon at Simmons before he was shot and is only alleged to have racked his gun as he hid behind the bushes. “A law-abiding gun owner with a license to carry that weapon would do exactly what Donovan did,” he said.
Aaron Rouse, a Black, Virginia Beach City Councilman, who said he is 6’4” and a concealed weapons permit holder, reiterated as much while standing alongside Lynch’s family at a press conference.
“I can only think about that night, that night with all those gunshots going off, and I’m hiding behind a bush. I’m going to have my weapon out protecting myself as well,” he said.
Simmons is a Black officer, but McCollum said he believes Lynch’s race played a role in the shooting. “It’s as though we are the threat,” he said. “All we’re saying is that there was nothing that he was doing that was illegal. For that officer to fire his weapon three times at Donovan, it was not the ‘reasonable’ course of action.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Simmons said he was “gratified” to have his name cleared of wrongdoing.
“The past eight months have been a trying time for me and my family, as I am sure it has been for the Lynch family. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about that night,” Simmons said. “As the Grand Jury’s report stated, I was placed in an incredibly chaotic situation, one that required me to make a difficult, split- second decision. My heart goes out to the Lynch family for their loss, and I will continue to pray for them as I have done every day since this happened.”
Despite the seeming resolution in the case, Lynch’s family, McCollum and other supporters are hopeful further investigation will happen.
“There are just too many unanswered questions,” McCollum said, highlighting the need for a federal investigation. “That’s the only way you’re going to get the answers. Having the police investigate the police is going to get us what we got yesterday.”