Police in Fairfax County, Virginia, released body-worn camera footage of an officer fatally shooting a 26-year-old man in McLean last month, saying it shows a “very active and chaotic incident” the department is continuing to investigate.
County police responded to two 911 calls from a house on Arbor Lane in McLean on July 8 for a report of a man having a mental health crisis. When police entered the front door of the house on their second visit, the video shows 26-year-old Jasper Aaron Lynch pacing, then throwing a decorative wooden mask at officers and running toward them with a wine bottle. Two officers deployed their Tasers, and one of the officers fired his weapon, striking Lynch four times.
The shooting is the subject of a criminal investigation by the department’s Major Crimes Bureau in cooperation with the Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office. The police department is also conducting an internal investigation.
“On the occasions when police officers use deadly force, it’s always profoundly sad …. And because a police use of deadly force was involved, we, again, take it very seriously,” Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis said during a news conference Thursday.
“This one is gonna take a little bit longer to assess and investigate,” than other police shootings, Davis said. “Some are more clear than others; this one isn’t exactly as sterile because there’s a lot going on. There’s a lot going on that the camera captures, and there’s a lot going on that our investigation will concentrate on that’s not within the view of the cameras.”
While the investigation is still ongoing, Davis said he would refrain from offering his opinion or assessment of the officers’ actions. But in response to a reporter’s question, he said the video shows the officers attempted to verbally de-escalate the situation by using Lynch’s first name to address him and by telling him to drop the objects in his hands and then using their Tasers, a less-than-lethal option, before shots were fired.
The Lynch family released a statement shortly after the police news conference.
“Our son, Aaron, was experiencing a severe mental health crisis on July 7,” the statement from Pat and Kathy Lynch stated. “He was scared and asked for both of the 911 calls that were made that day. We believe that the three police officers who answered the second 911 call could have, and should have, handled this far differently. To respond to Aaron’s mental health crisis by shooting him at all, let alone multiple times, cannot be justified. We recognize that, at times, police officers face grave and unknown dangers in the line of duty, but that was not the case for that call at our home regarding our son. Aaron was about 5’ 6,” slightly built, and holding just a bottle and a decorative mask.”
The statement went on to say: “As parents, we mourn the heartbreaking loss of our son and are left with only memories and regret. Had we known there was any possibility that the police responding to the second 911 call would use lethal force against Aaron during a mental health crisis, we would not have involved them until a mental health counselor could be present, as was the case for the response to the first 911 call. We hope our efforts to find out more about this incident will, in the future, help families in similar situations avoid such a tragic outcome.”
2 separate 911 calls
During the first 911 call to the house just after 7 p.m., officers responded with a trained co-responder from the community health department. However, by the time authorities arrived, Lynch had left the house.
Shortly after 8:30 p.m., a family friend called 911 a second time, saying Lynch had returned and was throwing things in the house, according to audio of the call also released by police. By that time, the single clinician who currently works with the department was completing paperwork, Davis said, and did not respond to the house with officers the second time.
The body-worn camera footage shows officers who arrived talking with Lynch’s sister in the front yard where she tells officers her brother has been struggling with his mental health and had started experiencing hallucinations and paranoid thoughts after the death of a former girlfriend.
During the earlier 911 call, the family friend told officers there were “no weapons of any kind” in the home, and in the conversation in the front yard, one of the officers tells Lynch’s sister, “We’ll help as much as we can, but we’re kind of, like, more of a last — not last resort — but we’re, like, if it’s gotten to the point where he’s going to harm himself immediately.”
A short time later, officers entered the front door of the house. When Lynch appears in the living room, officers shout at him, “Bud, put it down,” and “Aaron, you’re all right.”
Bodycam footage shows Lynch throwing the mask then approaching the officers quickly with the raised bottle. Two of the officers fire Tasers with no effect. A third officer fires his sidearm multiple times, and Lynch falls to the ground on the front porch. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
There have been five shootings involving Fairfax County police officers so far this year. There was just one last year.
Davis said the department has responded to some 6,700 calls for service involving people experiencing mental health crises — which amounts to an average of 33 a day. Less than 1% of those calls involve use of force.
The department is in the first phase of a program to expand the use of mental health clinicians as co-responders on police calls involving mental health crises. On Aug. 8, the department will transition to the second phase, which will add a second clinician. Eventually, there will be 16 clinicians working in the program.
Davis also said his department provides officers with the “gold standard” training in use-of-force and that more than 40% of officers are trained in crisis intervention techniques.
WTOP’s Kristi King contributed to this report.