VB auditor to analyze body camera activation data following deadly officer-involved shooting not captured

Investigative

Police chief confirmed officer's body-worn camera not activated for "unknown reasons"

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The Virginia Beach City Auditor’s Office will continue to take a hard look at police body-worn camera activation as part of an ongoing audit of the program, which began several months before a man was fatally shot by an officer at the Oceanfront. That shooting was not captured on tape because the officer’s body-worn camera was not activated.

Donovon W. Lynch, 25, was killed during a “police intervention shooting” on Friday night in the 300 block of 20th Street, said Virginia Beach Police Department Chief Paul Neudigate. The medical examiner says Lynch died after gunshot wounds to the torso and thigh.

On Monday night, police released an update that said Lynch was armed and brandished a weapon at the time of the officer-involved shooting. The VBPD found a “firearm in the vicinity” of the shooting, and said a witness corroborated that Lynch possessed a weapon earlier in the night.

The VBPD is conducting administrative and criminal investigations into the officer-involved shooting. The Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office is conducting an independent investigation into the shooting and will decide if the officer should be criminally charged.

Neudigate did confirm that the officer who shot Lynch was wearing a body-worn camera at the time of the shooting, but it was not activated for “unknown reasons.”

“As much as we would like to be transparent, we pride ourselves on being accountable and responsive, I do not have the answers that the community is looking for in regards to this death right now,” Neudigate said, adding that the department expects officers to activate their body-worn cameras when they know they are going to be involved in an incident.

The proper activation of body-worn cameras by working VBPD officers is one element of an ongoing audit that began in November. Virginia Beach City Auditor Lyndon Remias said the audit was planned and that his team is examining current police body-worn camera processes, training, activation, and policy to ensure the program is effective and in compliance with national standards. The audit is strictly focused on the body-worn camera program, and is separate from both the VBPD’s and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s investigations into Lynch’s death.

Although his office was already in the process of auditing the VBPD’s body-worn camera program, Remias said the officer-involved shooting reiterates the importance of examining current policy and ensuring that the technology is being used appropriately. Remias will closely analyze the VBPD’s body-worn camera activation rate data to determine if officers are turning on their cameras when expected.

“I was shocked, like many, that the camera was not activated, and as part of the audit will look closely to follow up on the process of activating cameras. We will look to see if this was an isolated incident, or see if there are more cases where an officer failed to properly activate their camera,” Remias told 10 On Your Side investigators in a text.

Current policy states that VBPD officers are responsible for checking and testing their body-worn cameras at the start of their shifts to make sure they are working properly. Officers should activate their body-worn cameras “immediately upon arriving at a scene,” including during:

  • Calls for service
  • Traffic stops/crash scenes
  • Officer-initiated investigations
  • Any encounter that is likely to result in an arrest
  • Any encounter where use of force is likely to occur
  • Vehicle and foot pursuits
  • Incidents related to citizen interviews
  • Any event where actions indicate an actual or potential breach of the peace

“Officers shall activate their BWC [body-worn cameras] as soon as it is safe and practical to do so, during any encounter that becomes adversarial or any situation where documenting the event will have administrative or evidentiary value … Officers should not sacrifice their safety for the sake of activating the camera,” the policy states.

The VBPD was the last police department in Hampton Roads to outfit their officers with body-worn cameras. The first phase of the program was rolled out in July 2018 and only a small fraction of officers were outfitted with body-worn cameras. When the November audit began, the department had deployed 330 cameras with a goal of having 450 activated.

In July 2018, 10 On Your Side reported that the VBPD bought its body-worn cameras from Axon, which is the same company listed in the department’s current policy. At that time, 10 On Your Side also reported that the cameras could be manually activated with a button, but that there was also a remote starter connected to the department’s gun and taser holsters. 10 On Your Side reported that the body-worn cameras would begin recording when officers pulled their weapons because of the remote starters.

10 On Your Side investigators emailed the VBPD about the remote starter feature to determine if it is currently in use, but did not hear back from the police department by the time of publication.

The March 26 officer-involved shooting happened in the midst of a chaotic and violent night at the Oceanfront that left several people injured and another person dead.

On Friday night, VBPD officers initially responded to a physical fight that escalated into gunfire at the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and 20th Street. Seven people were injured as a result of that shooting. A VBPD officer was already patrolling that intersection when the gunfire occurred, Neudigate said.

Three men were charged in connection with that shooting: Ahmon Jahree Adams, 22, Nyquez Tyyon Baker, 18, and Devon Maurice Dorsey Jr., 20. They are each charged with seven counts of felonious assault, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and reckless handling of a firearm.

“It’s extremely troubling, because what that says is that we have individuals in our community [that] while a uniformed police officer is there that choose to engage in gunfire, completely disregarding the safety of our citizens and our residents who were out at that time,” Neudigate said in a Saturday press conference.

Police are also investigating the death of 28-year-old Deshayla E. Harris of Norfolk, who was shot and killed in the 300 block of 19th Street on Friday night. Police believe she was not involved in any criminal incidents and was an innocent bystander who was likely struck by stray gunfire. No arrests have been made in her death as of Monday.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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