State police to probe deadly Virginia Beach police shooting

Virginia Beach police have turned over their investigation of an officer-involved shooting of a former college football player to Virginia State Police after the Black man’s death amid a rash of weekend shootings drew heightened public scrutiny.

Donovon W. Lynch, 25, was shot by a Virginia Beach police officer in the last of three separate shooting incidents along the city’s popular oceanfront strip of hotels and restaurants. The shootings left one other person dead and eight others wounded.

The case has drawn calls for a thorough and transparent investigation from such figures as Grammy-winning musician Pharrell Williams, who says Lynch was his cousin.

“The Lynch family and the involved officer each deserve a comprehensive and thorough investigation into this incident, and we appreciate the public’s patience as we pursue every facet of it,” Virginia Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate said in a statement Tuesday.

Both Lynch and the police officer who shot him are Black. That officer and another officer who saw Lynch’s shooting have both said that Lynch had a handgun, police said Monday.

The city’s police department also said that a “separate, independent witness corroborated that Mr. Lynch was in possession of a handgun” earlier that evening. But the body camera worn by the officer who shot Lynch had not been activated “for unknown reasons,” police said.

The other officer was a plainclothes detective who was responding to one of the evening’s two other shootings and was not wearing a camera, Chief Neudigate said.

The chief told a special City Council meeting held Tuesday to discuss the shootings that the community deserves more transparency. But he said “we have very little information to guide our response in our investigation.”

“This is the first time that I’ve encountered a situation where we’ve had no body worn camera footage,” the chief said of Lynch’s shooting. “We’ve had no independent video footage. We’ve had no immediate independent witnesses.”

Neudigate said most officers want to wear cameras, which can boost conviction rates. And he said they’re taught to activate the devices with a double tap.

“But there is some human capacity in there; that you could be confronted with an immediate threat,” he said. “And the last thing that you’re probably thinking about is, ‘I’ve got to activate my camera first.’”

Neudigate said his department on Monday formally requested that state police take the investigation.

That same day, Williams told his 10 million Twitter followers that Lynch was his cousin.

“It is critical my family and the other victims’ families get the transparency they deserve. VA Beach is the epitome of hope and we will get through this,” said the singer, songwriter and producer.

Williams, who is also a Virginia Beach native, declined to comment further through a representative.

Lynch, who lived in the coastal city, was an offensive lineman for the University of Virginia’s College at Wise during the 2017 and 2018 seasons and a 2019 graduate of the school.

The officer who shot Lynch has been placed on administrative leave, police said. He has been with the department for five years and is assigned to its special operations division.

The Virginia Beach chapter of the NAACP said in a statement Sunday that it wasn’t surprised that the officer’s body camera wasn’t turned on. It said its members are “watching and listening for the department’s inquiry into this shooting and expect a thorough and expeditious report. The community is waiting!”

Virginia House Del. Jay Jones, a Democrat who is running for Attorney General, has called for the state AG to investigate.

“We need far better accountability and transparency, and the families of those killed by police, in Virginia Beach and across this country, deserve answers,” Jones said Sunday.

Lynch’s shooting was one of three separate shooting incidents that police said occurred within minutes of each other along Virginia Beach’s oceanfront.

The first broke out late Friday night and stemmed from a fight, police said. Neudigate told Council members Tuesday that five males were seen firing guns, and shots struck several people. They included a female who is expected to be hospitalized for “quite some time.”

The chief said three men who’ve been arrested are associated with two local gangs. Each faces seven counts of malicious wounding, among other charges.

Also killed in a separate shooting nearby that night was Deshayla E. Harris, 28, of Norfolk. Investigators said they believe Harris was likely a bystander struck by stray bullets while she was on a sidewalk with friends.

The chief said there had been an exchange of gunfire between multiple parties in a nearby parking lot. More than 50 shell casings were recovered, and nine vehicles had been struck by bullets.

No arrests were immediately made in her death.

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