Virginia Beach police say this gun was recovered from the scene of Friday night's shooting. In a reversal from Saturday's press conference, they now link it to the shooting victim, Donovan Lynch. Photo courtesy of Virginia Beach Police. A Look at The Gun Recovered From Friday's Crime Scene
Virginia Beach police say this gun was recovered from the scene of Friday night's shooting. In a reversal from Saturday's press conference, they now link it to the shooting victim, Donovan Lynch. Photo courtesy of Virginia Beach Police.

In a reversal from Saturday’s press conference, officials now say Donovon Lynch was “brandishing a handgun” when he was shot.

VIRGINIA BEACH-Three days after a Virginia Beach police officer killed Donovon Lynch, the department now says Lynch was “brandishing a handgun” at the time of the incident.  

On Monday, department officials provided an update. Over the last 48 hours, homicide detectives interviewed the officer involved with the shooting, a second officer who witnessed the incident and some other witnesses. Based on those interviews, the department now says Lynch was armed before the shooting. 

“Both officers report that Mr. Lynch was brandishing a handgun at the time of the shooting,” department officials said in Monday’s statement. “It was recovered at the scene.” 

Webster’s Dictionary defines brandish as waving a weapon, often as a threat.In Monday’s statement, officials didn’t provide further details and it doesn’t look like those will be coming anytime soon. 

“The specific actions which resulted in the shooting are part of the ongoing criminal investigation,” the statement said. 

Department officials did say, however, that an independent witness confirmed Lynch had been carrying a handgun earlier that Friday night. 

This is the third stance the department has taken since the incident happened. At first, they released a statement saying “one uniformed VBPD officer in immediate proximity of this location encountered an armed citizen, which resulted in a police involved shooting.” Just 24 hours later, Chief Neudigate told the media at Saturday’s press conference “[there’s] no evidence linking the gun found in the vicinity to Lynch.” 

Department officials said the reversal came after they interviewed the officer involved and another nearby. It’s still unclear why that took so long. As of Neudigate’s Saturday press conference, nearly 24 hours after the original incident, those interviews had not taken place. However, someone in the department knew enough about the circumstances to put that Donovon Lynch was armed in the original statement. 

Why Didn’t The Camera Turn On? 

The Virginia Beach department uses body cameras, which would typically be able to answer questions about what happened. However, the officer involved in the Donovon Lynch shooting didn’t have his turned on. 

“The officer was wearing a body cam,” Neudigate said on Saturday. “But for unknown reasons at this point in time, it was not activated.” 

Looking at the department’s body camera policy, it calls for officers to turn them in eight specific circumstances. Those include: 

  • All calls for service
  • Any encounter that is likely to result in an arrest
  • Any encounter where the use of force is likely to occur
  • All vehicle and foot pursuits
  • All traffic stops and crash scenes
  • Any officer-initiated investigations
  • During citizen interviews
  • During any event where actions indicate an actual or potential breach of the peace took place. 

Based on that list, the camera should have been turned on. The same policy also says officers “shall activate their [body-worn camera] as soon as it is safe and practical to do so, during any encounter that becomes adversarial or in any situation where documenting the event will have administrative or evidentiary value.” 

Even if the officer didn’t turn on the camera, there’s a question why it didn’t automatically do so. This video from the city’s own YouTube channel shows that the cameras are supposed to be linked to the holsters. 

“There are two instances where it will activate automatically,” Virginia Beach Police Capt. Todd Jones said in the video. “One is with a signal device attached to the holster. When a gun comes out of the holster, it sends a signal and every camera within 30 feet will activate.”

The other is when a taser is used, Jones said. If the taser comes out of the holster, the cameras automatically turn on. 

Already before this incident, Virginia Beach was reviewing the department’s use of body cameras. The city auditor started a scheduled review in November, looking at the department’s methods of training, when cameras are activated and the overall policy. There is no timeframe for the review to be completed.  

A Call For Transparency

The 25-year-old Donovon Lynch was a former offensive lineman at Norfolk Christian School. He played college football at UVA-Wise and was heralded as a “bright light” by his family. Lynch’s cousin, music producer and Grammy winner Pharrell Williams, said his death was a tragedy beyond measure. 

“He was a bright light and someone who always showed up for others,” Williams said in an Instagram post Monday. “It is critical my family and the other victims’ families get the transparency, honesty, and justice they deserve.” 

Williams was referring to the two other shootings that took place Friday night. Eight people were wounded and one other person was killed. That victim was 29-year-old Norfolk resident Deshayla E. Harris, a reality tv star who last appeared on the Oxygen series Bad Girls Club. Police said she was a bystander hit by a stray bullet. 

Williams wasn’t the only person calling for transparency on Monday, the Virginia NAACP, the Virginia ACLU and Hampton Roads Del. Jay Jones all called for an independent investigation into Donovan Lynch’s shooting. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring also encouraged the department to refer the case to an independent third party. 

“The department needs to explain as soon as possible why this officer’s camera did not capture the incident,” said Herring’s spokeswoman Charlotte Gomer. “We encourage the Virginia Beach Police Department to consider referring the matter to an unaffiliated law enforcement agency so the public can have the most confidence in the independence and objectivity of the investigation.” 

In his Saturday press conference, Neudigate argued against turning the case over to an independent investigator. “When we go to an outside entity, we do worry about evidence preservation, we do worry about witnesses being lost,” Neudigate said. “We’re also concerned about our ability to be immediate, accountable and transparent. If we do turn that investigation over to VSP, I’m not able to stand in front of my community and answer the hard questions.”

What Happens Next?

On Monday, Virginia Beach Police Communications Coordinator Jennifer Cragg outlined the department’s next steps. The department is currently conducting a criminal investigation. Once that’s finished, all statements and evidence will be turned over to the local Commonwealth’s Attorney. Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney Colin Stolle is conducting a separate investigation into the incident. 

Once all of that is complete, Cragg said the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau will start its own investigation to determine if policy and procedure were followed. The officer who shot Donovon Lynch has been placed on administrative leave until all of the investigations wrap up. The department will not release his name.

Brian Carlton is Dogwood’s managing editor. You can reach him at brian@vadogwood.com.