VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Beach Chief of Police Paul Neudigate said following a special grand jury’s decision not to charge one of his officers in the shooting death of Donovon Lynch, his department is launching an investigation of their own that’ll determine if the officer continues in his job.
Neudigate said there is still “a whole lot of investigation” that the department needs to do to allow them to come to their own conclusions about what happened on March 26.
Facing public pressure, the department handed over the entire investigation to the Virginia State Police three days after the deadly shooting of the 25-year-old Lynch at the Oceanfront. Neudigate said he saw much of the body camera video from that night for the first time Tuesday during the commonwealth attorney’s presentation.
He also said now is the time for continued healing and that he would welcome a sit down with Lynch’s father.
“I think the initial reaction that we all have is that it is a tragedy regardless of the outcome of the grand jury,” Neudigate said in his first public comments after the grand jury report was released.
In a nearly two-hour presentation Tuesday, Commonwealth’s Attorney Colin Stolle and his chief deputy attorney Scott Lang played portions of police body camera video from some of the more than 100 police officers on scene the night 10 people were shot at several shooting scenes at the Oceanfront.
In one clip, officers are seen running toward the gunfire as nearly 50 gunshots go off.
Officer Solomon Simmons was one of them who ran. Prosecutors say he encountered Lynch near the intersection of 20th St. and Pacific Ave, crouching behind bushes holding a gun and facing in the direction of a parking lot full of people.
Simmons told investigators he heard “the rack of a slide in a firearm.”
“In my mind, I’m thinking he’s going to start shooting into the parking lot,” Simmons recounted in the interview.
Moments later, Simmons fired three rounds, two striking Lynch: one in the torso and thigh. He died on the scene.
Stolle said Simmons’ concern for the safety of himself and others in that parking lot qualified the officer-involved shooting as self-defense.
“This is a horrific occurrence and we feel for the Lynch family, we feel for everyone involved and we feel for the Virginia Beach community,” Neudigate said.
Now, the department’s internal affairs division will conduct their own investigation to see if Simmons followed all department policies and procedures of the department. Simmons will remain on administrative duty until that administration is complete.
Simmon’s body camera was not on when he fired the deadly shots. Prosecutors revealed Tuesday that Simmons had previously turned off his body camera as he got into his car to follow an injured person to the hospital.
The policy has since been updated to require cameras to be activated immediately when a police officer marks “en route” to a call for service in Virginia Beach.
However, Neudigate said he hopes to take an even more holistic approach to also figure out what additional training and best practices may need to be implemented.
“Maybe it’s additional training for the police. Maybe it’s additional training on behalf of the community, when interacting with police and legally carrying a firearm,” Neudigate said.
Neudigate said he does plan to look into the special grand jury’s recommendation that all officers be tested for drugs and alcohol after a police officer discharges their service weapon. Neudigate wanted to make clear that he believes the jury was making a best practices suggestion in that case as no allegations were made aware to him that Simmons was ever under the influence that night.
“Just like anytime we have one of these, we are looking to do better,” Neudigate said.
10 On Your Side asked if Neudigate still stands by the department’s press release days after the shooting, in which Simmons and another officer described Lynch as “brandishing” his firearm.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines brandishing as “to shake or wave (something such as a weapon) menacingly.”
Lynch’s family has expressed the use of the word by police was done in an attempt to disparage Lynch.
Neudigate was quick to emphasize that information came strictly from the those two officers.
“What we put out was what the officers asserted — that’s what was in the press release. That was not a declaration from the Virginia Beach Police Department, that was a synopsis of what we had during those original interviews,” Neudigate said.
The word “brandishing” was not uttered once in the entire presentation from the commonwealth’s attorney. 10 On Your Side asked if he still felt that word was appropriate to use given what he saw Tuesday.
“I think we know brandishing, from what the grand jury said that there was manipulation of the firearm,” Neudigate said.
Neudigate expressed he wants to help the department and city move forward from the tragedy in a positive way.
“I would tell you, is I would relish the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Lynch and just have a conversation,” Neudigate said. “I have never had the opportunity, although I’ve reached out to him to express condolences in person on behalf of the police department and we do have sympathy and empathy for Mr. Lynch and his loss.”
A civil suit is still pending in federal court involving the matter. Lynch’s family is demanding the city pay $50 million for wrongful death.
Editor’s note, March 28, 2022: Since the original reporting of this story, Virginia Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate has said the information given during a meeting March 30, 2021 that nine people were shot and injured and two others were killed at the Oceanfront March 26 was not correct. WAVY confirmed with the chief that eight people were injured and two were killed.