Grand jury acquits Virginia Beach officer who shot Pharrell Williams’ cousin

A private grand jury has revealed that a Virginia Beach police officer was justified in shooting a black man armed with a pistol during a chaotic night of violence on the city’s oceanfront this spring, authorities said Tuesday.

A private grand jury has revealed that a Virginia Beach police officer was justified in shooting a black man armed with a pistol during a chaotic night of violence on the city’s oceanfront this spring, authorities said Tuesday.

Donovon Lynch’s death has drawn intense scrutiny as he is a cousin of Virginia Beach and Grammy Award-winning musician Pharrell Williams. Lynch’s father also filed a $50 million lawsuit against police officer Solomon D.

During a two-hour press conference on Tuesday, city prosecutors said Simmons was justified in protecting himself and others in the moments after Lynch shot a shot in his gun room and stood – pointing his weapon at a parking lot packed with people and police.

Prosecutors said Lynch started running toward Simmons, who shouted something at Lynch. However, the attorney general said Simmons did not explicitly state that Lynch aimed the gun directly at him.

“There were several people in this parking lot when Officer Simmons saw Mr. Lynch start to bring in the firearm,” said Colin Stoll, a Virginia Beach Commonwealth attorney. “So it’s not just whether or not the gun was aimed at Officer Simmons. And it was——are the people in the parking lot in danger?”

Lynch, 25, of Virginia Beach was an offensive lineman at University of Virginia College in Wise during the 2017 and 2018 seasons and the school’s 2019 alumnus.

Lynch and his friend were visiting the town’s promenade filled with restaurants and hotels on a warm spring night, which drew throngs of people. The evening turned into chaos after sporadic fire broke out. At least eight people were injured and a woman believed to be a bystander was killed.

Authorities said Lynch was injured in the violence. Prosecutors showed footage of several body cameras worn by police in the minutes before and after Lynch’s shooting, as well as witness statements.

Prosecutors also provided a videotaped statement from Simmons, whose camera did not turn on during the shooting.

Scott Lang, the Commonwealth’s deputy chief attorney, said Simmons had turned off his body camera because he had started driving to the hospital for an investigation into a separate shooting victim. Then another shooting erupted, Lang said, with 50 shots being fired in a parking lot.

In a videotaped statement, Simmons said he saw Lynch, who “looked out of place.” Simmons said Lynch had a gun and was crouched in the bushes next to the parking lot, where the shooting took place. Simmons said he heard the distinct sound of a “slashing” rifle.

“I think he’s going to start shooting in the parking lot,” Simmons said.

Simmons said he said something to Lynch – though he can’t remember what – and Lynch started to turn around before Simmons shot.

Prosecutors also showed a statement from a city investigator who said he also saw Lynch, rising from a bend and a gun pointed at the parking lot. The investigator said he was preparing to fire his rifle before Simmons fired his weapon.

In a lawsuit, Lynch’s father, Wayne Lynch, accused Simmons of shooting his son “on the spot, unlawfully and without warning,” according to news reports.

Darion Marsh, a friend of Lynch who said he witnessed the shooting, told The Virginian-Pilot earlier this year that Lynch never took the gun out of his charging shorts.

Prosecutor Lang noted that the police carrying body cameras arrived at the scene within 25 to 30 seconds. He said the footage did not show Lynch’s friend in the vicinity.

Stolle, a Virginia Beach Commonwealth attorney, said he provided the same grand jury information to Lynch’s father on Tuesday morning.

“Obviously they were unhappy with the outcome of the investigation,” Stolle said.

Wayne Lynch did not immediately return a voicemail and text message from The Associated Press requesting comment.

The fallout from Lynch’s death continues to reverberate in Virginia Beach. The Virginian-Pilot reports that Williams sent a letter to city officials last month saying he would not bring the Something in Water music festival back to the waterfront, in part because of the way the city handled the investigation into his cousin’s death.

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