VIRGINIA BEACH (WAVY) — Donovon Lynch’s family said they were disappointed but not surprised with a special grand jury’s findings not to charge the Virginia Beach police officer that fatally shot Lynch back in March as they continue to push for a federal investigation into his death.
The Lynch family and supporters held a press conference on Wednesday afternoon to address issues in the case, including how they believe Virginia State Police were unable to conduct an impartial investigation. Multiple elected officials were also in attendance, including Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler and Virginia Beach council members Aaron Rouse and Sabrina Wooten.
The special grand jury found that Solomon D. Simmons, the officer that fatally shot Lynch, was justified in acting in self-defense because he believed an armed Lynch was a threat at the time. About 50 gunshots had just rung out and 11 people in total were shot that night at the Oceanfront.
The Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office released the special grand jury’s findings on Tuesday during a two-hour presentation that included many of the same reports, maps, audio and video reviewed by the panel of 11 citizens.
On Wednesday, advocates argued that Lynch, a legal gun owner, also had the right to be armed because he too feared for his life at the time and asked why police didn’t use more restraint. There was no evidence that Lynch pointed his gun at Simmons that evening. Simmons also didn’t have his body camera on at the time of the shooting.
“What did Donovon Wayne Lynch do that was illegal?” said Gary McCollum while speaking on the family’s behalf. “Why did he have to be shot that evening?”
Raw emotion was evident during Wednesday’s press conference.
“We just want justice for Donovon. I’m not discussing anything else but that, Justice for Donovon,” said Wayne Lynch, Donovon’s father.
Wayne Lynch would not take any questions, but his anger, sadness, and disappointment showed through.
“I want justice for my son, her grandson. Put your camera over there,” Lynch said ordering the cameras to pan to Donovon’s grandmother, Betty Sills, who was sitting by the door.
“That’s his grandmother over there. Look at her,” Wayne Lynch said.
“I am the grandmother, and I’m hurting. Real hurt. How can you do that? … It makes no sense.” she said.
The family and supporters said they were also upset with what they believe were attacks on Lynch’s character in the presentation on Tuesday by Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Scott Lang, including the emphasis on his physical size and his .10 blood alcohol level at the time of the shooting.
“What are we supposed to read into that? That he was a threat because of size, because of his “big hands?” McCollum asked.
They said they were disappointed with Lang trying to clear up rumors in the case on Tuesday, and not focusing on the shooting of Lynch.
“What we saw yesterday, what we believe, is a lot of distractions … he was talking about everything but Donovon Wayne Lynch and what actually happened on that night,” McCollum said.
Dr. Karen Pruden, president of the Virginia Beach NAACP chimed in as well Wednesday.
“So, when you hear gunshots, and you are a legal gun carrier, and there is nowhere to get to safety what do you do gun carriers of Virginia? You pull out your gun,” she said.
Wayne Lynch made clear, there is only one acceptable path forward in his eyes: and that is a federal investigation,
“We reiterate the call for a federal independent investigation under the Department of Justice. That’s what we demand.”
The family and activists are also asking for more transparency in the case, including the release of all of the body camera footage and not just the footage shown on Tuesday. Other questions posed were: was DNA found on Lynch’s gun tested against officers on the scene? And did the movement of Lynch’s body contribute to his death?
Investigators said Lynch’s gun was found next to where he was shot with a round in the chamber, and said that he was moved to a safer location nearby. Lang said video evidence showed Lynch was not moved next to the body of Norfolk native Deshayla Harris, the other person fatally shot that night at the Oceanfront.
No arrests have been made in the Harris case.
On Wednesday night, Congressman Bobby Scott (D-Newport News) announced he had sent a letter Wednesday to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland demanding a federal investigation into the Lynch case. Scott previously made a similar request to Garland in April.
The 3rd Congressional District, which Scott represents, does not cover any part of Virginia Beach.
“The Commonwealth’s Attorney for Virginia Beach announced yesterday that he will not file criminal charges against the officer involved in the fatal shooting leaving many questions unanswered about what occurred that evening,” Scott wrote in the letter. “I remain concerned with public reports of how this matter has been handled by VBPD, the divergent accounts of the events leading to Mr. Lynch’s death, and to what occurred immediately after the shooting. I urge you to move swiftly to utilize the full resources and transparency of the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct an investigation.”