Grand jury clears officer who shot Pharrell Williams’ cousin

Nov 30, 2021, 12:50 AM | Updated: 3:18 pm
Scott Lang, Virginia Beach Chief Deputy Commonwealth Attorney, explains footage from police worn bo...

Scott Lang, Virginia Beach Chief Deputy Commonwealth Attorney, explains footage from police worn body cameras during a press conference, Tuesday, Nov, 30, 2021, in Virginia Beach, Va., about the police involved shooting of Donovon Lynch last March. (Stephen Katz/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

(Stephen Katz/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — A special grand jury found that a Virginia Beach police officer was justified in fatally shooting a Black man armed with a gun during a chaotic night of violence on the city’s oceanfront this spring, authorities said Tuesday.

The death of Donovon Lynch has drawn heightened scrutiny because he is a cousin of Virginia Beach native and Grammy winning musician Pharrell Williams. Lynch’s father also filed a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit against police Officer Solomon D. Simmons, who is also Black, and the city of Virginia Beach for allegedly failing to train its officers.

During a two-hour news conference Tuesday, the city’s prosecutors said Simmons was justified in protecting himself and others in the moments after Lynch racked a round into his handgun’s chamber and stood — pointing his weapon toward a parking lot filled with multiple people and police.

Prosecutors said Lynch began to turn toward Simmons, who yelled something at Lynch. However, Simmons never explicitly stated that Lynch pointed the gun directly at him, prosecutor’s said.

“There were numerous people in that parking lot when Officer Simmons saw Mr. Lynch starting to come up with the firearm,” Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney Colin Stolle said. “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?”

Lynch, 25, of Virginia Beach, 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.

Lynch and a friend were visiting the city’s boardwalk, which is lined with restaurants and hotels, on a warm spring night that drew crowds of people. The evening dissolved into chaos after separate eruptions of gunfire. At least eight people were wounded and one woman, who was believed to be a bystander, was killed.

Lynch was shot after that violence, authorities said. Prosecutors showed footage of multiple police-worn body cameras in the minutes before and after Lynch was shot as well as statements from witnesses.

Prosecutors also presented a videotaped statement from Simmons, whose body camera had not been turned on during the shooting.

Scott Lang, chief deputy commonwealth’s attorney, said Simmons turned off his body camera because he began to drive to a hospital for an investigation involving a separate shooting victim. But then another shooting in which 50 rounds were fired in a parking lot broke out, Lang said.

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

“I’m thinking he’s going to start shooting into the parking lot,” Simmons said.

Simmons said that he said something to Lynch — though he doesn’t remember what — and Lynch began turning around before Simmons fired.

Prosecutors also showed a statement from one of the city’s detectives who said he also saw Lynch, rising from a crouch with a gun pointed toward the parking lot. The detective said he was preparing to fire his gun before Simmons fired his weapon.

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

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

Lang, the prosecutor, pointed out that police with body cameras arrived at the scene within 25 o 30 seconds. He said the footage did not show Lynch’s friend in the immediate area.

Stolle, Virginia Beach’s commonwealth’s attorney, said he presented the same grand jury information to Lynch’s father Tuesday morning.

“They obviously 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 seeking comment.

Fallout from Lynch’s death continues to reverberate in Virginia Beach. The Virginian-Pilot reported that Williams had sent a letter to city officials last month that said he won’t bring his Something in the Water music festival back to the oceanfront, partly because of how the city handled the investigation into his cousin’s death.

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Grand jury clears officer who shot Pharrell Williams’ cousin