A special grand jury in Virginia Beach has found "no probable cause" to charge a local police officer with the killing of singer Pharrell Williams' 25-year-old cousin. Despite not having his body camera on during the fatal shooting, the grand jury believed that the cop was justifiably defending himself.
On March 26, Officer Solomon D. Simmons III discharged his firearm three times and killed Donovan Lynch, at the scene of a disturbance near the beachfront.
Simmons, who happens to be a Black police officer, arrived on the scene of the incident after an alert that there was a shooting going on at the Oceanfront parking lot. Simmons was told that several people were injured and at minimum one woman was dead. The officer testified that he saw Lynch with a gun and that he appeared to be aiming the weapon at the crowd and other cops on duty.
The grand jury agreed that Simmons demonstrated an act of "justifiable self-defense of himself and others." The city issued the following statement about the ruling:
During the news conference announcing the decision, Virginia Beach Commonwealth's Attorney Colin Stolle showed select footage of the day. He shared videos from other bodycams of police on deck showing what happened before and after Lynch was shot. In one of the recordings, Simmons is heard saying, "I shot him."
However, he did not show footage from Simmons' bodycam because it was turned off during the shooting "for unknown reasons," authorities reported.
Stolle stated, "There were numerous people in that parking lot when Officer Simmons saw Mr. Lynch starting to come up with the firearm."
"So, it is not only just whether the weapon was pointed at Officer Simmons. It was also - are the people in the parking lot at risk?" he continued.
Stolle also allowed a recording of a witness statement to be played. The witness stated that he saw Lynch cock his gun back before being shot by Simmons. It was after that, Lynch is alleged to have yelled out, "I'm shot." The grand jury report found that Lynch never pointed his weapon at Simmons.
Gary McCollum, a local minister and activist painted a different picture with some additional nuance. Police described the parking lot as a "war zone" with a shooting that resulted in 9 people being shot.
The initial incident did not involve Lynch. McCollum argues that Lynch was a licensed gun owner who stepped out into this war zone and took cover with his gun with the intention of protecting himself. Instead the focus appeared to be on tarnishing Lynch's character, according to McCollum.
"The second amendment applies to everybody," McCullom said. "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?"
Virginia Beach City Councilman, Aaron Rouse echoed McCullom's thoughts to The Daily Beast. "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.
The Lynch family renewed their calls for the feds to take over the case.
Donovan's father, Wayne Lynch, stated at a press conference immediately after the decision was released, "We're disappointed, but not surprised. This is not over, it's just begun."
"I need justice for my son," he demanded.
Justice may come via the $50 million lawsuit the Lynch family has filed against the City of Virginia Beach. The claim by the elder Lynch is that Simmons' killing of his son was "unlawful" and without warning. The city has filed for a motion to dismiss it, but there may be legs for the family to stand on.
Simmons' body camera not being on is a huge issue for the defense to justify. The city's website shared that VBPD officers are supposed to wear "body cameras as another tool to gather evidence, provide information about police interactions, increase accountability and strengthen the relationships we have within the community."
Additionally, the "smoking gun" is the police have reported that Lynch's gun, which was found with one bullet loaded in the chamber, never was fired.
Lynch's famous cousin, the Grammy-winning artist Pharrell Williams, canceled his Something in the Water Festival in Virginia Beach this past October because of the police-involved shooting. The city reached out to the celebrity, hoping he would reconsider. That would not be the case. The "Happy" chart-topper penned a public letter to them lifting that the city had "toxic energy" and that he wanted a federal probe into the killing.
He further wrote, "I wish the same energy I've felt from Virginia Beach leadership upon losing the festival would have been similarly channeled following the loss of my relative's life."
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