At a Monday press conference, family members said they refuse to let Donovon Lynch’s name continue to be attacked.
VIRGINIA BEACH-What led up to Donovon Lynch’s death? Who was the officer that killed him? These are questions without answers, almost half a month later. It’s a situation Lynch’s family says they’re tired of. They’ve seen too many people try to say Donovon did something wrong, without any evidence to back it up. That’s why they have a list of demands, calling for change both in the case and in Virginia Beach itself.
Speaking at a Monday press conference, the family outlined their complaints with the help of their attorney Jeff Reichert and local pastor Gary McCollum. First and foremost, they’ve asked city and state officials to either retract the claim that Donovon was “brandishing” a gun or provide evidence to back it up.
“The family deserves the truth, the community deserves the truth of what happened,” McCollum said. “We have witnesses [saying] what happened is different than the narrative the police has put out to the public.”
Lynch was killed by a Virginia Beach police officer March 26. That officer immediately pleaded the fifth, Virginia Beach police Chief Paul Neudigate told city council the next week, limiting what information the department could learn. To plead the fifth means to claim your Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer a question, on the grounds that you might incriminate yourself. In fact, it took 48 hours of negotiation with the still unnamed officer’s lawyer before he would even speak to homicide detectives. Also, the officer’s body camera wasn’t on, for still unexplained reasons.
After speaking with the officer and a plainclothes detective who had arrived on scene that night, that’s when police officials put out the statement. “Both officers report that Mr. Lynch was brandishing a handgun at the time of the shooting,” it said.
Family Says There Are Other Witnesses
There’s some problems with that statement, Reichert and family members said. First, the police department never went into more detail as to what “brandishing” meant in this case. Donovon was a licensed gun owner and security firm operator who typically traveled with his gun in a pocket.
Just before the officer shot Donovon, two gang-affiliated groups got into an argument a few blocks over. They pulled out guns and started shooting, wounding eight other people through stray bullets. Based on eyewitness statements, Reichert said, Donovon started walking back to his car with a friend after those initial shots rang out. That’s when he encountered the unnamed officer.
Now since the beginning, police have said there was just one uniformed officer at the scene. He was the shooter. Reichert said that witnesses reject that argument. They say two uniformed officers were there that night.
None of the witnesses mentioned were present at Monday’s press conference and no one identified them by name.
Donovon Lynch’s Family Calls For Other Changes
In addition to retracting the “brandishing” claim, McCollum outlined four other changes the family wants to see. First, they want all involved officers to be identified. Second, they want a federal investigation by the US Department of Justice into the case. Third, they want officials to start providing regular updates to the family and public.
The final request involves setting up a citizen review board for Virginia Beach. The idea stems from a law passed in the Fall 2020 Assembly session. It lets a city or county set up a board that will “receive, investigate and issue findings on complaints” involving police or police department employees. Some examples of this already exist in places like Charlottesville. Most of the existing boards are advisory committees, however. They can investigate to a point, but have no subpoena power and can only issue recommendations.
The new law lets review boards “make binding disciplinary determinations in cases that involve serious breaches of departmental and professional standards.” Review boards are now able to investigate complaints and then decide guilt or innocence. If the officer is guilty, the board then will determine punishment in coordination with the local police chief. This could be a letter of reprimand, suspension without pay, demotion within the department or reassignment. They also can legally fire officers if the board decides it’s necessary.
“That kind of oversight would create a culture where these kinds of incidents would not happen,” McCollum said.
Virginia Beach’s police department and city council have not yet responded to the family’s five requests.
Brian Carlton is Dogwood’s managing editor. You can reach him at [email protected].