By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Wayne Lynch said in a recent exclusive interview with the GUIDE he will spearhead an effort to have the Virginia General Assembly enact Donovon’s Law to be named for his 25-year-old son Donovon Lynch, slain by a Virginia Beach police officer in March. Lynch believes such a law would strengthen the investigation of police in cases like his son’s, in Virginia and nationally, especially under Virginia Beach’s new Citizens Review Board to provide citizens’ input on charges of police misconduct.
From the day his son died on March 26 to November 30 when the city of Virginia Beach released the Grand Jury’s findings of the incident, Wayne Lynch said “this has been an enormous burden on me and my family. We have been traumatized, disrespected, and …. not treated well,” he said. “It has been a nightmare and it continues.”
“We all have endured a lot and we have all persevered so far. Now we want justice. We want justice for Donovon.”
“Disappointed but not surprised!” was his sentiment and his supporters who spoke during a press conference the day after a Grand Jury cleared the Virginia Beach policeman who shot Lynch to death in March.
Empaneled in August, the Special Grand jury was called to inquire into the deadly shooting incident March 26 at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. It found that police officer, Solomon D. Simmons, who is also Black, was justified in his actions.
Wayne Lynch and other speakers at the press conference he called rejected the findings and reiterated their “demand” for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to conduct an independent investigation.
U.S. Congressman Robert Scott recently sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney General requesting it.
Lynch’s family and community leaders also pushed back against what they said were racist “code words” in the report released by the Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney. Notably, its description of Lynch, who was 6’4” and weighed over 300 pounds, denoted him as a dangerous Black Man.
Lynch and a friend had visited the city’s boardwalk area on a warm March night that drew crowds of people. The evening evolved into chaos after separate outbreaks of gunfire.
Eight other people were injured due to the gunfire, and Lynch and Deshayla Harris, 28, from Norfolk were fatally wounded in separate incidents near the 300 block of 19th Street.
The city’s prosecutors said during their press conference a day earlier on November 30, that officer Solomon D. Simmons encountered Lynch along a line of bushes beside a parking lot where a shooting had just occurred.
Simmons told investigators that he saw Lynch with a gun while crouched in the bushes. Simmons said he heard the distinct sound of a gun being racked to place a bullet in the chamber. He said he saw Lynch begin to rise and thought he would fire into a parking lot filled with people and police.
Simmons said he said something to Lynch — though he doesn’t remember what — and Lynch began turning around before Simmons fired. A police detective who was nearby said he also saw Lynch and was preparing to fire his gun before Simmons fired his weapon.
Elisheba Harris, mother of Deshayla Harris, who lived in Norfolk, also attended the press conference and said that no one yet has called her to clarify who shot her daughter on that tragic night.
It is known that Donovon Lynch did have a gun in his possession which was legally registered. But Lynch’s father and supporters say he never would have drawn it to shoot into the crowd of civilians or at the police officers seeking to gain control of the situation.
“He was a great young man,” said his father Wayne Lynch, who has filed a $50 million wrongful death civil lawsuit. “He did everything he was supposed to do. He didn’t break any laws.”
The lawsuit accuses Simmons of shooting his son “immediately, unlawfully and without warning,” according to news reports.
Wayne Lynch said that he will continue to seek a justice for his 25-year-old son, who owned a security business and had played football and graduated from the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. His father said he carried a gun because he had a security business.
Darrion Marsh, a friend of Lynch’s who said he witnessed the shooting, told a local newspaper earlier this year that Lynch never took the gun out of his cargo shorts.
Scott Lang, the Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney, pointed out that police with body cameras arrived at the scene within 25 or 30 seconds. He said the footage did not show Lynch’s friend in the immediate area.
Wayne Lynch pointed out that Donovon Lynch’s grandmother attended the press conference and the pain she has experienced.
“This makes no sense,” she shouted.
Lynch said referring to police and prosecutors investigating the case, that he had given the system a chance to get it right, but there were still too many unanswered questions.
“We called for an independent investigation,” he said. “We are disappointed but not surprised.”
“Donovon was a great young man, did not break any laws. As a young man as he was growing up…he spread love and joy,” the elder Lynch said. “He had a legally registered weapon and he got killed!”
Bishop Ezekiel Williams of the Faith World Ministries of Norfolk was the first to speak at the 48-minute press conference called by Donovon Lynch’s family.
“I am standing with the Lynch family,” Williams said. “I am very disappointed in the decision and the findings that were rendered. We have a long road ahead. It is important that Deacon Lynch knows he is not standing alone.”
Gary McCollum, a pastor and President of “Due The Right Things” said, “This is why from the very beginning, the family, people locally…national people have called for a federal investigation of the case”
During his presentation, McCollum pointed out several questionable points in the Grand Jury’s “verdict”.
He mentioned the Commonwealth’s Attorney, Colin Stolle’s statement that his investigation was troubled by assertions and rumors.
“The investigation should be investigated not rumors, but facts,” he said. “We see a lot of distractions…and no facts.”
“We see the impugning of Donovon Lynch’s character…6-4/300 pound plus his blood alcohol content,” McCollum continued. “Was he a drunk?”
McCollum said one of the Grand Jury’s recommendations was that police who are involved in a shooting should have their blood-alcohol measured. Was that done?
“The Second Amendment should apply to everybody,” said McCollum. “The question I am asking did it apply to Donovon Lynch….what did he do that was illegal?”
McCollum noted that the Virginia Beach police initially reported there was no body camera footage of the incident involving Lynch.
“Now we have 100 hours,” he said.
McCollum called for the images captured by all the cameras “not just snippets.”
McCollum also noted the “DNA which was found” on Lynch’s gun.
City officials said they could test thousands of people to determine whose it was. McCollum asked if the DNA of the officers at the scene was tested.
Donovon Lynch’s body was moved to another spot after he was shot. McCollum asked if that caused the bullet in his body to “shift” and contributed to his death.
Also, McCollum said that the Lynch Family and other individuals supporting the family “are not anti-police.”
He also noted that the officers who stood in a nearby parking lot showed “constraint” as chaos raged around them. “Why wasn’t that constraint shown before Donovon was shot?”, he asked.
Activist Cameron Bertrand noted the amount of disinformation related to the case and he challenged the media to “use their platform” to spread the truth to deter furthering the trauma being experienced by the Lynch and Williams families.”
He also said the Virginia Beach Police Department should be more transparent because it has lost the trust of the community.
“Forget toxic, this is lethal,” Bertrand said. “You’re killing our people and condoning it. The one person that should be here is not; they took him away from us. There is no transparency and no trust.”
The activist said he was shot six years ago. He reiterated McCollum’s point about the effect of moving Lynch’s body after he was shot.
He said, “If they had moved my body I would not be here today. It took them six minutes to move his body. They have controlled the message. What has been put out to the media is not the truth.”
Lauryn Lynch, Wayne Lynch’s daughter who attends Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), said while fighting back tears, “Yesterday when I got the news…that my brother did not get justice…I felt the the same way the night he got killed.”
“Since March life has been tough. I am facing this while in school. My brother graduated and still got killed. Why should I do it”? My brother was the hardest working person I know. But he laid out in the middle of the street… (Officer) Solomon has done something that put my life on the hold.”
She called the Grand Jury’s decision to clear Solomon a “Monstrosity.”
She said she has been quiet and bitten her tongue.
But she said she would continue to speak until justice and answers related to her brother’s death are answered.”
Rev. James Allen, the President of the Interdenominational Minister’s Conference called the “pain of the Lynch family palatable´ and felt by all who knew them.
“We feel the pain each day,” he said. “But not to the extent they do…we did not lose a family member. We are tired of doing the same thing.”
Allen said five years ago, his organization, “demanded the Virginia Beach Police Department buy body cameras for its officers.”
He said the cameras were not to “intimidate the police. but just the opposite…to show the truth about a situation, If the citizens are wrong, the footage will show it.”
“But we …look at that dog and pony show by the police and Commonwealth’s Attorney and his deputy yesterday and we feel insulted to the core of our being,” Rev. Allen said.
He mentioned the many hours of body cam footage from 50 or 60 officers “who did not kill anyone, but none from the the camera worn by Officer Simmons who killed Lynch, because his was turned off.”
Allen was critical of the report’s description of Lynch’s height and weight which he said was “racist code words for white people being scared of Blacks, a concept which has existed since “the slavery days.”
Dr. Karen Hill Pruden, the President of the Virginia Beach NAACP said, “I am disappointed and the more I think about it, I am outraged.”
“Justifiable defense of oneself is not just a police officer’s right,” she said, referring to the right to bear arms.
She said that although Lynch had that right, she suggested the police did not respect it.
Pruden mentioned the right for people to defend themselves with a weapon if they feel there is a threat of serious bodily harm, and the use of force is a legal response.
She noted with all the gunfire on the night of March 26, Donovon Lynch “believed he was in danger” and may have pulled out his weapon.
Carl Wright, a former President of the Virginia Beach NAACP, said how the Second Amendment “does not work for African Americans.”
“Donovon Lynch was an American,” he said. “He was a legal gun carrier (but) his life was taken. I have sons. I carry a gun. I am African Americans and I am a target.”
State Delegate Kelly Convirs-Fowler, who represents Virginia Beach said “We need accountability and transparency in our city.”
She mentioned she and her husband were talking about a newscast on the Lynch case recently.
She said her husband who plays football is “ a big, tall white man.”
The Delegate noted that her husband said “if it was me a tall white man and took my gun out I would have been fine. He could go out and run and not be chased and rundown.”
Councilman Aaron Rouse said Lynch’s father was a mentor to him and kept him “on the right path.”
“I am a big guy and a concealed weapon holder,” he said. “I can think on that night behind the bushes I would have my weapon out protecting myself.”
Rouse said that night of the incident, it took three of his colleagues to persuade Mayor Robert Dyer to call a special session for the council and public to be briefed about 10 people who were shot, two of whom were killed.
Rouse said that the mayor left it up to a newly hired police chief Paul W. Neudigate, who knew nothing about the “morality of a community.”
“We need to get to the bottom of what happened to Lynch,” he said., We cannot heal that which has not been revealed.”