A special grand jury impaneled to investigate the fatal shooting of Donovon Lynch at the Oceanfront earlier this year by a Virginia Beach police officer has recommended the officer not be criminally charged, prosecutors announced during a press conference Tuesday.
The 11-member grand jury panel was formed in August to investigate the March 26 shooting and completed its work this month. Officer Solomon Simmons shot Lynch during a chaotic night of violence at the Oceanfront. One other person was killed and eight others were wounded in unrelated incidents.
“Our decision was based on careful consideration of the evidence, testimony, and the law, including, but not limited to, footage from over 100 hours of body cameras, surveillance videos, photographs, witnesses and forensic evidence,” a report released by the grand jury said. “We find there is no probable cause to believe that Officer Simmons unlawfully shot and killed Mr. Lynch as he acted in justifiable self-defense of himself and others.”
Commonwealth’s Attorney Colin Stolle declined to provide demographic information about the panel but said it was a diverse group. Both Lynch and Simmons are black.
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The grand jury did, however, recommend that attorney Jeff Reichert, who represents the Lynch family, be investigated for perjury. Stolle said he has appointed a special prosecutor from outside his office to look into the matter, but declined to comment further.
While the panel had body camera video from dozens of officers available to view, it didn’t have any from Simmons. That’s because the officer failed to turn on his camera before the shooting.
Prosecutors played clips from the videos during Tuesday’s press conference that showed the moments immediately before and after the shooting at the corner of Pacific Avenue and 19th Street. They also played a video of an interview with Simmons and investigators, and an audio recording of a man who witnessed the shooting.
Simmons told investigators he saw first saw Lynch crouched behind a line of bushes near the intersection. He said he heard Lynch rack his gun and saw him rise up with the gun in his hands, pointed in the direction of a parking lot where multiple people and police officers were gathered. Simmons fired his gun at that time.
Simmons can be heard on the video telling other officers: “The firearm’s right there. I shot him.” He’s later seen being walked away from the scene by another officer.
Lynch, a former football player at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise, had been at a bar with a friend and decided to leave after hearing shots had been fired nearby, according to his family. The two men were on their way to their car when Lynch was struck. He died at the scene.
Lynch’s friend and his family have said he had a gun with him that night, and it was found at the scene. While Lynch’s friend has said the gun never left Lynch’s pocket and that Lynch’s hands were in his pockets at the time he was hit, prosecutors said the evidence didn’t match up with the friend’s assertion.
Video taken immediately afterward shows the gun on the ground near Lynch, Lang said as he showed clips of the body cam video. Lynch’s cell phone was in his pocket and was struck by one of the bullets, but his hands weren’t hit, indicating they weren’t in his pockets, the prosecutor said.
The bullets struck Lynch in two places: in his left arm pit and in his upper left thigh, according to the medical examiner’s report. His body was later moved down the street because the area wasn’t considered safe for EMTs to treat him, said Scott Lang, the Virginia Beach deputy commonwealth’s attorney.
Lynch’s father, Wayne Lynch, filed a $50 million federal lawsuit against the City of Virginia Beach and Simmons in June. The lawsuit claims Simmons made a series of fatal errors that night, and that Virginia Beach police have a long history of using excessive force.
Lynch was a cousin of singer and songwriter Pharrell Williams, who also grew up in Virginia Beach.
Williams sent a letter to city officials last month announcing he would not bring his highly successful Something in the Water music festival back to the city, in part because of the way the city handled the investigation of his cousin’s death.
Pharrell Williams has reeled in a boatload of awards as a recording artist and producer. But the Virginia Beach native’s greatest hit may have been the 2019 Something in the Water music festival on that city’s waterfront.